10 August 2020

AI in the fight against cavities: BIH Digital Health Accelerator supports spin-off of the start-up dentalXrai

Together with data scientists and programmers, dentists at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin developed the software dentalXrai Pro, which allows dental practitioners to perform AI-based analysis of X-ray images. Since 2017, the team has been working with a clear goal in mind: to help dentists identify pathologies and restorations more accurately and in less time on X-rays of the jaw, enabling optimal treatment and improved patient communication. The Digital Health Accelerator of the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) assisted and financed the project from prototype and product development all the way to the spin-off of the start-up dentalXrai GmbH.

X-ray analysis usually takes up a good deal of time in dental practices, yet rarely is it completely accurate. If the examining dentist is pressed for time or inexperienced, this will negatively affect the quality of the diagnosis and the treatment derived from it. To solve this problem, the dentist Dr. Falk Schwendicke and co-founder Dr. Joachim Krois rely on artificial intelligence. Three years ago they started developing dentalXrai Pro with a team of ten. The software enables the automated analysis of dental X-ray images using AI algorithms; it reliably detects cavities, infections and restorations such as crowns, implants and root canal fillings and highlights the findings in color. The automated analysis of findings saves dentists valuable time.

“AI is not responsible for the dental examination and does not reach decisions on the treatment,” emphasizes Schwendicke, Chair and Head of the Department of Oral Diagnosis, Digital Health, and Health Services Research at Charité. “But it raises dentistry to a standardized, high-quality level and immensely speeds up the analysis of X-rays, so that dentists can use the time more effectively for talking to patients.”

From digital X-rays to automated diagnoses

Most dental practices already take digital X-rays. These can be transmitted to dentalXrai Pro in a few clicks. The browser-based software accesses high-performance computers and a whole ensemble of algorithms for a range of findings, delivering a pre-analyzed image within just a few seconds. These algorithms are the result of in-depth software “training.” Dentists at renowned clinics around the world annotated tens of thousands of pathological changes and traces of earlier dental treatments on X-rays. Schwendicke and his team used these annotations to “feed” artificial neural networks. These identify statistical patterns in the data and can thus distinguish between cavities, infections and root canal fillings on dental X-rays.

Second spin-off of the BIH Digital Health Accelerator

The development of dentalXrai has benefited from the research and support environment at Charité as well as from the BIH Digital Health Accelerator (DHA). The support program of BIH Innovations, the joint technology transfer unit of Charité and the Berlin Institute of Health, helps innovators to develop concepts into digital products and to translate these into clinical practice.

“The Digital Health Accelerator has supported dentalXrai from prototype development to spin-off, with funding, mentoring by interdisciplinary experts, team-building support, and the collaborative working environment of the DHA co-working space,” says Thomas Gazlig, Director of BIH Innovations. “We saw that the project had great potential and benefits for patients from the very beginning.” BIH funding has ended with the founding of the company, but dentalXrai will remain networked in the innovation ecosystem of Charité and the BIH. “We are very pleased that with the start-up, we have once again been able to accompany a translation success through to spin-off. These are the first fruits of three years of hard work by the Digital Labs team. We are excited about the further development, which, if economically successful, will also create funds for new development projects at the BIH and Charité.”

DentalXrai as a digital “second opinion” in the dentist’s office

Currently, physicians, data scientists and software developers work at dentalXrai. In the coming months, the team is set to expand and diversify. “Now sales will move into the foreground,” says Schwendicke. “We want to use our networks and find business partners who can bring our software to dental practices. There it not only makes the dentists’ work easier. It also helps to involve patients in dental diagnostics, fostering trust by providing the ‘second opinion’ of a digital colleague.” 

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About DentalXrai