Experts discover troubling reason oral health may worsen in the coming decades: ‘Real-world problems do not have [clear-cut] labels’

Researchers are investigating whether worsening extreme weather conditions are affecting oral health — and artificial intelligence might hold the key to combat the worsening issue.

Cross-disciplinary research teams at Harvard are studying how heat waves, wildfires, destructive storms, and other concerning weather events might affect oral disease.

Their hypotheses suggest that high temperatures and poor air quality cause drier mouths, which makes people more susceptible to oral diseases. Additionally, “natural disasters can disrupt access to dental facilities and care,” said Francesca Dominici, the director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

Researchers are using AI to analyze data from satellites and atmospheric chemistry models to pinpoint which communities and geographic regions are most likely to need increased access to oral healthcare. Additionally, other researchers are developing AI-driven methods to match patients with personalized therapy strategies to ensure that their care fits each individual’s particular oral healthcare needs.

“Real-world problems do not have [clear-cut] labels — global warming is not just physics, or engineering, or mathematics. Medicine is not just biology, chemistry, or computer science,” said Dimitris Bertsimas, the Boeing Professor of Operations Research and the associate dean of business analytics at MIT. “Multimodal data will increasingly be used across science, engineering, and medicine, and [AI] will become the predominant methodology for predictions and decision-making across all fields.”

AI is also helping accelerate research by “generating, acquiring, harmonizing, and refining data,” according to Marinka Zitnik, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Harvard.

“In high-stakes situations,” Fernanda Viégas, a principal scientist at Google and a computer science professor at Harvard, said, “[we found] being able to engage with [AI] systems at meaningful levels mattered a lot” to healthcare providers.

Viégas continued: “It touches upon the need for trust, confidence, transparency … and these are all really hard things to accomplish [in an AI system]. As we start to deploy new [technologies], we will find these gaps [in user experience] that we need to design for.”

Artificial intelligence is also making waves in numerous ways in other industries, including solar panel innovation, electric battery fire prevention, and streamlining the efficiency of traffic intersections.

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