The hidden truth about clear aligner “AI” technology

Faris Elsayad

Posted on

November 23, 2022

The hidden truth about clear aligner orthodontics is that “AI” isn’t working. It’s supposed to remove clinical expertise from the equation - but instead, on average, a case with the big brands needs more than double the initial anticipated number of aligners - not good for patients, not good for clinicians.

We should know - we built 32Co to fix this problem by promoting expertise, rather than trying to replace it. Along the way, we realised that there are fundamental misconceptions about how the major manufacturers “support” dentists using their aligners.

So in this article, we’re going to break down the limitations of AI and how dentists can retake control of their orthodontic treatment.

What does it mean to have AI help with your aligner cases?

Simply put, conventional big brand aligner systems use words like 'AI' to create mystery around how treatment planning for clear aligners is actually done behind the scenes.

This is done to exploit the limited aligner knowledge. The concept of artificial intelligence is used to distract from the truth - teenage technicians with no dental training are designing the majority of clear aligner treatment plans. This happens in other areas - patients are deceived by at-home ineffective whitening kits with a blue light, because they look and sound the part.

Let’s get one thing clear - AI technology can’t programme tooth movement. If you’ve used clear aligner treatment planning software, you’ll know that technicians need to manually manipulate teeth in 3D to move them. The software can’t align teeth itself.

Once the teeth have been moved into position by a technician, the planning software uses algorithms to calculate the number of stages required to rotate a tooth. Algorithms aren’t AI - they are simple calculations. For example, if a tooth is planned to rotate by 10 degrees, 2 degrees per stage, it will take 5 stages to achieve this. In other words, 10 divided by 2 equals 5…

So, AI treatment planning is not what it’s cracked up to be. What’s more, all planning software requires US-FDA clearance, and is required to be operated by orthodontically trained dental professionals - but big brands are exploiting a loophole in this regulation to get around clinical rigour.

Dentists are intentionally kept in the dark

With the rapid clear aligner market growth and the rise of manufacturers pushing their own consumer-facing brands, the focus on clinical knowledge has dwindled - to be replaced by quick fixes that lubricate market growth. This means that GDPs with little orthodontic teaching and unaware of how the AI in clear aligner software is really being used are accepting treatment plans that may be unsafe.

So if technicians are helping create the plans, and dentists aren’t receiving sufficient orthodontic training and support, how can every patient be assured of a great outcome?

You can’t automate away clinical expertise

Clinical experience and a thorough understanding of patients is essential in creating a safe and effective clear aligner plan. Orthodontics is a speciality for a reason and involves skill, experience and an understanding of the fundamentals of tooth movement.

A great example is SmileDirectClub, which Invisalign previously part-owned - and provided planning and manufacturing technology for. This partnership led to disastrous results for patients, showing the limitations of relying on “AI”, rather than clinical expertise.

We’re bringing the clinician back to the forefront at 32Co, instead of trying to automate them away. We’re doing this by upskilling new and experienced providers, by providing free specialist orthodontic guidance with every case they provide.

You can’t take the AI to court, so you better know what you’re doing

We’ve spoken to hundreds - yes, hundreds - of experienced clear aligner providers who have at least one horror story of a patient who did not get the outcome shown on the simulation.

These dentists simply just trusted the “AI-led” process and didn’t control or appraise the treatment plan. Big brands perpetuate the idea that AI means perfect planning. But it’s dentists, as the prescribing clinician, who take full responsibility for bad outcomes - not the “AI”.

How to retake control of your clear aligner treatment

To be able to provide high-quality orthodontics you need to truly understand how to move teeth. But for the GDP that just wants to grow their aligner cases, orthodontic knowledge can seem like a black box. This is where 32Co steps in.

We provide dentists with free 1:1 orthodontic supervision as standard, all the training you need and an open clear aligner marketplace selling different materials. We do this all without charging you a penny - meaning you simultaneously increase your revenues, upskill and provide better treatment with half the refinement rates of the industry average.

We’re accepting applications for our free, 4-week Clear Aligner Starter Course, recommended by every dentist who has taken it (yes, really!) In the words of one of our participants - “Other courses felt more like a crash course and off you go!”

Apply to the Clear Aligner Starter Course here. If you have experience with aligners and want to learn more, sign up here.

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