Interview: "Artificial Intelligence can revolutionise the future of dentistry"

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Interview: "Artificial Intelligence can revolutionise the future of dentistry"


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Image: Wardah Inam/ DT Pakistan
Dr Muattar Hanif

Dr Muattar Hanif

Thu. 12 November 2020


Born and raised in Pakistan, Dr Wardah completed her bachelors from Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology (GIKI) in 2010. Later she moved to the USA in 2012, where she completed her Masters in Electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), went to Harvard Business School for a year for select courses and then completed her PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  She has corporate experience in GE and Apple and is the recipient of the MIT Graduate Women of Excellence Award. She is the Co-founder of U-link technologies, where they developed the first AI-driven operating systems of an autonomous and fully-distributed micro grid. She then co-founded and is the CEO of the company Overjet. Her ground-breaking research in the use of Artificial Intelligence in dental imaging has taken the dental world by storm.  The company name and Dr Wardah Inam have been featured in Forbes and TechCrunch. Overjet is pioneering Artificial Intelligence-Driven Dentistry. Her company was founded by PhDs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and dentists from Harvard School of Dental Medicine and incubated at the Harvard Innovation Labs. The team of Overjet is dedicated to solving the most challenging problems in dentistry to improve care for millions of patients.

Recently Dr Wardah sat down with Dental Tribune Pakistan and talked about her journey.

Dental Tribune Pakistan: Dr Wardah, please tell us how Overjet started, and what was your inspiration?

Dr Wardah: As you know, before Overjet I had experience in artificial intelligence and worked biomedical sensing, like how do you use machine learning on wireless signals to detect breathing, heart rate etc. and after that, I was recruited in a start-up to do biomedical imaging. The idea of Overjet started when sometime back, I went to my dentist and the diagnosis for my dental issue was very different from the diagnosis that I had received previously from another dentist. So as a patient, I didn't know which diagnosis I should trust more. It caused a lot of confusion and caught me interested in dentistry. I then collected my x-rays and started looking into how one interprets x-rays to diagnose particular dental disease. I also found that the treatment plan recommended to me was very expensive than the treatment option suggested to me by another dentist. This confusion just somehow made me interested enough in dentistry. I realised that there was a lot of ways that technology could help and improve dental care and that's how the idea of Overjet came and it’s been a great ride for the last two years.

We have been developing technology, particularly artificial intelligence, specifically to look at x-rays and analyse the disease, diagnose the issues and suggest treatments that are needed. This can add more value to different organisations who are providing dental care and assist the dentist in providing better care. So that's what Overjet is about; it is about helping and improving dental care for everyone. Whether you go to fancy dentists or dentist located in your neighbourhood, you know for a fact that at least you will get the accurate basic standard of care for your problem.

Front row (from left to right): Deepak Ramaswamy, Wardah Inam, Alex Jelicich, Chris Balaban. Back row (from left to right): Lindsey Knowland, Prashanth Saka, John Riskas, Devin Cela, Shaju Puthussery

DTP: Overjet has gained tremendous momentum for it’s out of the box approach towards dental care and diagnosis. Did you expect this level of appreciation and attention that it has achieved?

Dr Wardah: I think we are in the initial phase. We have big plans for Overjet and how it's going to impact not only the dental community in the USA but the rest of the world too. We are just starting with a few areas, but there's a lot to do. Artificial intelligence will impact every aspect of the dental industry, whether it's the diagnosis, treatment planning, dental labs, distributors, manufacturers. It's going to influence how we think about dentistry. So, I believe that it's just the beginning for us, although we have achieved a lot of success very quickly. The value we are providing is enormous. We are already building Overjet with great team partners; they are the best in the world to do this.

"Your mouth is not separated from the rest of the body. Although general physician and a general dentist are considered separate entities, if we are looking at the same human body and want to help improve it, we have to start with dentistry"

DTP: How Overjet can correlate the diagnosis and treatment aspects?

Dr Wardah: We already know that there's a correlation between dental diseases and systematic problems like periodontal diseases with diabetes and other conditions. We are not making a connection; we are helping solve these correlations. We are working with Harvard Dental School; we have some research projects going on with them. The data collected from the dental practices around the USA help us to determine these correlations. We use that data and make sure it correlates with the medical health of the person as well to assess the progression of the disease, the existence of the condition and the outcome of the disease as well.

So on one side, we are working already. On the other side, we are tapping medical insurance companies who also have dental arms are very interested in value-based care and the outcomes that can be achieved. We are working with a few players here to make that determination happens as well as have a more data-driven approach towards any problem.

DTP: Overjet is promising to achieve better diagnosis and treatment plans. Is there any possibility that Overjet Technology can excel in the rest of the domains of dentistry soon?

Dr Wardah: Digital dentistry as we know it started when analogue x-rays were converted into digital. And that's when I think it all began. So, firstly your data becomes digital, and then the other things can happen accordingly as well. This is an essential start of what we call going 'beyond digital' and using that information into a more intelligent manner. And that's the next step. I can think of digital as the foundation of what we are doing. If digital didn't exist then or digitisation didn't happen in dentistry, then we won't be able to do what we are doing right now.

So how we look at it; the collection of the data is the first, step, and we are on it, and the next step is the utilisation of the data in a smarter manner, which we will be pioneering as computational dentistry rather than just digital dentistry.

To answer your question, the outputs derived from the data through these processes will help in providing better overall dental care, and that's we are all about and trying to build.

Overjet website

DTP: Are there any plans to introduce Overjet in Pakistan and how it can help dentists in our country?

Dr Wardah: The technology of Overjet is not just for the USA market only. Of course, in the USA, there's more focus on preventive dentistry where a lot of information is collected before any problems arise that allows us to work efficiently. Also, there's an already, easily accessible pool of data which can be easily assembled and help us work on it. Our goal is not to limit our technology to just particular geography. So, we are planning to reach Pakistan; especially in countries where such data-based infrastructure is not built as much.

So with just oral photographs, one can determine the severity of the disease and the triage where the patients need to opt. So starting with that, I think it can have a huge impact and then equipping the dentist you know with the right technology to help provide the proper treatment and treatment planning as well.

Especially you know when it comes to Pakistan, there's a definite lack of oral radiologists. Such a field is drawing in the USA with CBCT etc. being utilised efficiently. Through Overjet, we can help the dentist to have the kind of support needed which an oral radiologist will typically provide. So countries where there's this lack of oral radiologists I think this is just going to be a game-changer for them. But for the patient, I think it's going to form an immense impact the access to care. There are many ways that technology can help and improve dental care that's where Overjet stepped in to add more value to different organisations who are providing dental care and assist the dentist in providing better care.

"There are many ways that technology can help and improve dental care that's where Overjet stepped in to add more value to different organisations who are providing dental care and assist the dentist in providing better care"

DTP: You were recently included in the list of 'The 32 Most Influential Personalities in Dentistry' by the Incisal edge magazine. What was your response especially coming from an engineering background and getting recognition in dentistry?

Dr Wardah: Well, from my perspective, it's the team that we have built and the company of Overjet, which is recognised. I just happened to become the face of that! That's why I was included. So in a concise amount of time, we have a significant impact at least in the USA and the field of dentistry. I think that's why we are recognised as well as what Overjet can bring the revolution in the future. If we look at the potential of this technology and the impact it can have in dentistry, that impact will be decisive. And I think that's what was recognised. I think for me it was a very humbling feeling to be recognised amongst the best of the best. If you look at the names in the list, these people have spent their whole lives trying to be innovative and improving dental care, and I think being part of that list and those group of people was very humbling. These people were whether the largest distributors or largest practices or people who are shaping dentistry. I think this was an honour to be recognised with them and hopefully, Overjet can in the next few years shape the future of dentistry as well.

DTP: Please tell us what are the plans of Overjet and can we expect something innovative such as Invisalign to fix orthodontic issues, etc.?

Dr Wardah: Invisalign was started by Zia Chishti who is Pakistani and pride of our country. He grew it to what it has become now. When Invisalign began, it was very out of the box concept. Nobody could think of you know, mainly, because before that braces were used, which were very prominent and aesthetically not very pleasing. Mr Zia was at Harvard Business School, and he was recommended by his dentists to have braces to fix his dental alignment. But of course, Mr Chishti felt that at this age it would be a little awkward to wear braces. It would have been a lot better if there had been a more transparent solution for his orthodontic treatment. Hence, Mr Chishti developed Invisalign and grew it on a global level. For me, Invisalign is a great technology, and it shaped dentistry, especially the future of orthodontics and its huge success here in the USA. Of course, now there is more work done like SmileDirect etc., but they all are following the Invisalign model.

To answer your question, absolutely yes! I cannot disclose exactly what steps we are heading towards. This is a big market, and the consumers care about their teeth and oral health especially the 'Instagram nation' now! I think the smile has become even more critical than it might have been twenty years before. So, I think from our perspective, these are areas that are very important to us, and we are developing a strategy to tackle them. However, right now, we are focusing more on the diagnosis and making sure that the treatment planning is done correctly because ultimately, everything stems from there.

DTP: Do you think Overjet technology can autocorrect diagnosis of patients which at times dentists struggle with, because of human error, etc.?

Dr Wardah: To be honest, Pakistan has the world's best dentists in the world, especially comparing to USA ones. Pakistani dentists are single handily performing task of specialists. From the very diagnosis until the treatment aspect, Pakistani dentists have the calibre to diagnose correctly and treat very well. Dentists in Pakistan are taking much more toll than a dentist in the USA might and be comfortable with, which is some might do here, but such are exceptions rather than the norm. So I think the amount and kind of cases that a dentist in Pakistan cater is pretty impressive. I hardly doubt that they can falter in diagnosis!

A dentist's job, in general, is very tough. If you look at it, the amount of things that one dentist need to do is immense. A dentist is a surgeon, radiologist, patient communicator, the amount of work and conditions that they perform treatment in, is commendable. It's like we are asking too much from a dentist. And hence technology has to be stepped in to assist them and help them to perform their tasks. And yes this is where we are supporting and working towards. We are not trying to correct what dentists are doing; we are trying to help them. We are building a decision support tool and highlighting those aspects that dentist might miss in making a diagnosis so that one might not miss it, but in the end, the decision is ultimately of the dentist. They are the experts; they understand the patients' needs well more than technology.

DTP: Your message for the women in dentistry?

Dr Wardah: For the women, I at least would say, especially the dentists out there that even in the USA it's just recently that a balance between male to female ratio of dental professionals are found which didn't exist in the past. It was considered that as a norm, that dentist would be male and dental hygienist will be female. That has changed. The good thing I would say in Pakistan that in the medical and dental field, there are a lot of women leading and taking charge there. Whether it's in medical schools or dental schools and practising as well. So I will say that compare to engineering, from where I come from, the dental side of things is going much better. An effort still needs to be made so that women can complete their education and able to follow their dreams.

DTP: Your last message for our readers?

Dr Wardah:  Dentists are the most hardworking professionals I have ever seen. They should not underestimate their worth. One should continuously work for the betterment and polish their skills by reading more and doing research. There are so many aspects that haven't been touched yet in the field of dentistry and can be explored. Make it a habit, do it every day to keep yourself updated with the recent developments made in the world about your field and improve yourself. Retrospectively look over your progress and evaluate. This will surely make difference.

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