Artificial intelligence used for the early detection of gum inflammation

03 July 2023

A groundbreaking study led by researchers at the Faculty of Dentistry of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), in collaboration with multiple international institutions, has successfully demonstrated the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in detecting gum inflammation, also known as gingivitis, from intraoral photographs.

This cutting-edge technology can revolutionise the early detection and prevention of oral and systemic diseases linked to gum inflammation, such as tooth loss, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

The study, published in International Dental Journal, shows that AI algorithms can analyse patients' intraoral photographs to detect signs of inflammation like redness, swelling, and bleeding along the gum margin with over 90 per cent accuracy, matching the visual examination of a dentist. This innovative technology enables population-wide monitoring of gum health and paves the way for more personalised dental care.

The study was conducted by researchers from the HKU Faculty of Dentistry, the department of computer science at Hong Kong Chu Hai College, the school of information engineering at Guangdong University of Technology, and the Faculty of Dentistry at The National University of Malaysia. It involved developing and testing an AI model using a dataset of over 567 images of gums with varying degrees of inflammation and is one of the first to explore the use of AI in detecting gum inflammation.

Dr Walter Yu-Hang Lam, the study’s leading HKU researcher, said, "Many patients do not attend regular dental check-ups, and they only seek dentists to alleviate pain when their teeth are at the end stage of dental diseases, in which tooth loss is inevitable, and only expensive rehabilitative treatments are available. Our study shows that AI can be a valuable screening tool in detecting and diagnosing gum disease, one of the key indicators of periodontal disease, allowing earlier intervention and better health outcomes for the population."

The use of AI in dentistry has been gaining momentum in recent years, with researchers exploring various applications of the technology, from detecting cavities to predicting treatment outcomes to biomimetic design of artificial teeth. The use of AI in gum inflammation detection is a promising development that could revolutionise how gum disease is detected, treated, and even prevented.

Dr Reinhard Chun-Wang Chau, co-investigator of the team, said, “Based on these intraoral photographs, patients can address the area that they did not clean well and seek dentist’ help at an earlier stage.”

The collaborative nature of this study is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange. By bringing together experts from different fields and regions, the researchers can develop an AI model that could accurately detect gum inflammation, with important implications for public health and wellbeing.

For the project’s next stage, Walter plans to utilise the AI system for community services, making the technology more accessible to elderly and underserved communities, with the aim of improving oral health outcomes and reducing health disparities.

The study, ‘Accuracy of artificial intelligence-based photographic detection of gingivitis’, is available in the International Dental Journal.