Panoramic radiographs are a common diagnostic tool and a standard imaging modality that is frequently employed in routine clinical practice by dentists and oral and maxillofacial (OMF) surgeons [1
]. Although assessment of panoramic radiographs may be contracted to radiologists in certain circumstances, in many clinical practices, OMF surgeons often read their own panoramic radiographs. Previous research has shown that a physician’s training plays an integral role in correctly interpreting medical imaging [4
]. In dentistry fields specifically, the agreement rate (a proxy for their diagnostic performance) of dental professionals’ assessments of radiographic images seems to vary in part due to individual knowledge, skills and biases [5
]. The variability in dental professionals’ abilities to read panoramic radiographs opens the door for misdiagnosis or mistreatment [7
]. For example, recent research has shown that the rate of misdiagnosis by dentists in determining the depth of caries in a conventional radiograph was as high as 40 percent, and in 20 percent of cases, teeth were misdiagnosed as diseased [9
In medicine, much recent research has focused on developing diagnostic and therapeutic artificial intelligence (AI) tools to support the clinical decision-making process [11
]. So far, AI has been introduced and used in many clinical specialties such as radiology [12
], pathology [17
], dermatology [20
] and ophthalmology [21
] to aid with the detection of disease and the subsequent recommendation of treatment options. AI algorithms have also been developed for segmenting medical images for therapeutic tasks, such as tumor delineation in the head and neck for targeting by radiation therapy [23
]. Previous work in computer-aided diagnostics in dentistry and OMF surgery is limited. Prior studies focused on caries detection in bitewing radiographic images as well as tooth segmentation and for orthodontic calculations [24
]. The only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tool to date, the Logicon caries detector, was introduced in 1998, and is intended only for detecting and precisely diagnosing the depth of inter-proximal caries lesions [28
Detection of radiolucencies in a panoramic radiograph is a common task for OMF surgeons [29
]. In fact, the prevalence of periapical radiolucencies in radiographic images obtained in dental outpatient departments has been reported to be approximately 9–10% [29
]. The presence of periapical radiolucencies may reflect some common or serious dental diseases including infection (accounting for approximately 55–70% of radiolucencies), cysts (25–40% of radiolucencies), granulomas (1–2% of radiolucencies) and tumors [29
]. Delayed diagnoses of these radiolucent periapical alterations can lead to spread of disease to surrounding tissues, complications and patient morbidity [32
]. Although many dentists and OMF surgeons read their own panoramic radiographs, there has been little research conducted to study their accuracy in identifying the common radiolucent periapical alterations. In this study, we investigated the detection of periapical radiolucencies on panoramic radiographs. We studied the ability with which OMF surgeons identified the presence of periapical radiolucencies in panoramic radiographs. Additionally, we used deep learning to develop an image analysis algorithm for the detection of periapical radiolucencies on panoramic radiographs that could serve as an aid in clinical practice, and compared its performance with that of OMF surgeons.
2. Materials and Methods
Images for this study were obtained from the outpatient clinic at the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charité, Berlin. In the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charité, Berlin, panoramic radiographs are used as the standard imaging modality due to its overall good diagnostic discriminatory ability. Furthermore, this modality allows an overview by assessing the entire dentition plus surrounding bony structures, while using low doses of radiation [33
]. Nevertheless, the overall standard in endodontic radiography for the detection of radiolucent periapical alterations, especially for the detection of apical periodontitis, is periapical radiography [33
The use of the images and the participation of OMF surgeons in this study is approved by the institutional review board at Harvard University (board reference number: IRB17-0456; date of approval: 01 May 2018) and Charité, Berlin (board reference number: EA2/030/18; date of approval: 15 March 2018). Written informed consent for the study was obtained from all participating OMF surgeons. All methods and experiments were carried out in accordance with relevant guidelines and regulations (Declaration of Helsinki). The annotation of all panoramic radiographs took place in standardized radiology reading rooms including a clinical radiology monitor connected to the hospital’s information technology system. All participating OMF surgeons annotated the images on a web-based application, which was developed for this study.
2.1. Assessing the Reliability of OMF Surgeons’ Diagnoses of Periapical Radiolucenies in Panoramic Radiographs
For the evaluation of the reliability of diagnosis of periapical radiolucencies in panoramic radiographs by OMF surgeons in routine clinical practice, 24 OMF surgeons were recruited (eighteen from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charité, Berlin, three from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University Clinic Hamburg, Eppendorf, and three from private practices for OMF surgery). These OMF surgeons represented a random sample comprising 13 residents and 11 attending physicians (6 female and 18 male).
OMF surgeons were instructed to annotate 102 de-identified panoramic radiographs for clinically relevant periapical radiolucencies (Table 1
). The reference standard data was collected by a single OMF surgeon with 7 years of experience who treated all 102 unique patients using the following procedure. First, a panoramic radiograph was taken of the patient and evaluated; all detected radiolucencies were subsequently recorded. Second, every tooth of the patient was tested for clinically relevant periapical diseases (e.g., abscess) using pulp vitality testing through thermal and percussion testing—a gold standard for clinically validating periapical diseases [7
]. In general, teeth with periapical disease do not show any response to the different testing methods compared to healthy teeth, due to the loss of vitality. Consequently, the OMF surgeon has additional clues as to whether the periapical radiolucency is an artifact or indeed due to disease, compared to relying solely on the radiograph. If a radiolucency had been missed by the OMF surgeon’s reading but periapical disease was subsequently detected by the clinical test, the radiographic image was then assessed a second time to determine whether the radiolucent periapical alteration was visible and then recorded.
2.2. Development of a Deep Learning Algorithm for the Automated Detection of Periapical Radiolucencies in Panoramic Radiographs
We developed our model using a supervised learning approach, whereby the functional relationship between an input (i.e., radiographic images) and output (i.e., a list of detected radiolucent periapical alteration locations, and corresponding confidence scores) is “learned” by example. The task generally requires multiple labeled data sets: a data set used for the purpose of training the model, a validation data set used to determine whether or not the model is over-fitting the training set and for the purpose of selecting the best among several candidate models, and a testing data set used for final evaluation of the selected model. We assessed our model by comparing its performance on the same 102 images annotated by the 24 OMF surgeons described in Section 1
of Methods and Materials.
2.3. Radiographic Images and Labelling for Model Training
The training data set, comprising 3240 radiographic images, was labeled by four OMF surgeons from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charité, Berlin, from the same outpatient department (experience ranging from 5 to 20 years) who visually assessed the images, absent of any additional clinical information, and subsequently produced contour labels around any visible and treatable periapical radiolucencies that they had identified (Table 1
). Of note, physicians starting the OMF surgery residency program in Germany have already had at least two years experience reading dental radiographs and treating patients due to the program in dental school. Furthermore, in Germany, dentomaxillofacial radiology training is part of the OMF surgery residency program. No single subspecialty of OMF radiology exists in Germany.
Among the 3240 images assessed, 338 were excluded from the training data set. The exclusion criteria included inappropriate anatomy coverage due to poor positioning or artifacts, inferior density and poor contrast between enamel and dentin, as well as inferior density and poor contrast of the tooth itself with the bone surrounding it. These criteria comply with standards stated in the literature [5
]. The radiolucent periapical alteration distribution of the remaining 2902 labeled images is shown in Figure 1
, and among the retained images, 872 were assessed as being free of visible radiolucencies.
2.4. Reference Standard for Model Selection and Evaluation
A separate set of 197 panoramic radiographic images and associated diagnoses were collected from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Charité, Berlin. This data represented a reference standard for both model selection and final evaluation purposes. The images and labels were collected and produced by a single OMF surgeon with seven years of experience. The diagnoses were made by the OMF surgeon, who took and assessed the radiographic image of each patient, subsequently clinically tested each tooth within the patient’s jaws using percussion and thermal vitality tests. The data set was split into two disjointed subsets at the patient level: a 95 image validation set (used for model selection) and a 102 image test set (same as described in Section 2.1
of Methods and Materials) which was used for final evaluation of our trained model. Associated radiolucent periapical alteration distributions for these sets, along with the training data set, are shown in Figure 1
2.5. Benchmarks for Model Comparison
The model performance was compared against a benchmark of 24 OMF surgeons. The protocols for diagnosing the images were identical to those provided to the OMF surgeon who labeled the training data sets, however, the OMF surgeons were asked to produce a single point at the center of each radiolucent periapical alteration as opposed to a tight contour.
We framed the radiolucent periapical alteration detection task as a dense classification problem, whereby each pixel in an input radiographic image is determined to be either containing a radiolucent periapical alteration or not (see Appendix A
for full details). The model was based on a deep convolutional neural network for image segmentation [37
], which output an intensity map indicating regions of high or low confidence of containing a radiolucent periapical alteration. These intensity maps were subsequently postprocessed to yield a list of location points of a radiolucent periapical alteration within the image, and associated confidence scores on the interval (0,1) (Figure 2
and Figure A1
, Figure A2
, Figure A3
, Figure A4
and Figure A5
2.7. Evaluation Metrics
The performance of our model was assessed in terms of positive predictive value (commonly referred to as “precision”), PPV = NTP
), true positive rate (commonly referred to as “sensitivity” or “recall”), TPR = NTP
), and F1
score (a commonly used performance metric in machine learning, defined as the harmonic average of the PPV and TPR), where NTP
is the true positive (TP) count, NFP
is the false positive (FP) count and NFN
is the false negative (FN) count for predictions on the entire data set considered (see Appendix A
for full details). The model was also assessed using average precision (AP), defined as the area under the PPV-TPR curve based on Riemann summation. Performance metrics were determined as a function of a confidence threshold, treating locations with confidence scores greater than the threshold as positive predictions.
2.8. Evaluation of Correlations between Model and OMF Surgeons’ Performance
In addition to traditional evaluation metrics and benchmark comparisons, we studied the relationship between our model confidence scores and those inferred from the cohort of 24 OMF surgeons. The locations identified as a radiolucent periapical alteration by the 24 OMF surgeons in the testing data set were manually clustered by an OMF surgeon based on either the radiolucent periapical alteration locations indicated by the reference standard or by root location in the case of negative condition instances. A contour region was then produced around each cluster and a cohort confidence score was assigned to each region based on the proportion of OMF surgeons that found the region to be a radiolucent periapical alteration. Within each region, we additionally determined a model confidence score based on the predictions of the model for the purpose of comparison. We then used Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient to assess the monotonic relationship between the model and the cohort confidence scores.
While advances in digital radiography have been a major focus of medical research in recent years, a similar focus has been lacking in dentistry. Although OMF surgeons are routinely reading panoramic radiographs in practice, our study demonstrates that the ability of OMF surgeons to identify periapical radiolucencies in panoramic radiographs may be limited. Specifically, the results suggest that radiolucent periapical alterations may be missed, leading to poorer patients’ outcomes or in worst case mortality in an emergency setting and in total exposes OMF surgeons to significant liability. Based on these findings, we developed a machine learning algorithm for identification of periapical radiolucencies which not only performed better than half of experienced OMF surgeons compared against by some metrics, but may serve as a complementary tool in making these diagnoses as well as serving as the foundation for a more comprehensive and fully automated periapical radiolucency detection tool in the future.
Our results closely match a recently published study that reported on an algorithm for detecting apical radiolucencies in panoramic dental radiographs for endodontic treatment [33
] with a TPR of 0.65 (±0.12) and PPV of 0.49 (±0.10). This study group chose a different approach by evaluating the algorithm on a dataset labeled based on the interrater agreement of six dentists. The results therefore may be less reliable than our methodology, which includes clinical cross-checking of the labeled radiolucent periapical alterations for establishing the ground truth. Furthermore, in that study [33
], the images were labeled by dentists who generally use periapical radiographic images for endodontic treatment rather than panoramic radiographs, which may further limit their reliability. Notably, a final evaluation of model performance on a holdout test data set (i.e., a data set that is untouched until after the process of training, hyperparameter tuning and model selection) had not been performed, thus making their results susceptible to overfitting on the validation data set.
Although our results are promising, there remain several limitations to this study. First, our algorithm was trained on data labeled by OMF surgeons based on readings of radiographs as opposed to clinical testing. As a consequence, our algorithm may reflect the inherent limitations and biases of those OMF surgeons. Such limitations and biases, if learned by our algorithm, would be reflected in a degradation of performance on the testing data set. It is important to note that such issues do not invalidate our study since the test set was labeled based on the outcomes of clinical tests. However, by addressing such issues, better performance may be attained. While it is tempting to assume that a training data set labeled by multiple readers would improve the situation, this may not be the case if the limitations and biases of those readers are correlated. The strong correlation found between the confidence score rankings of our model and that inferred from a cohort of 24 OMF surgeons who read the same radiographs suggests that there may indeed be commonalities between the drivers for misdiagnosis between the model and the cohort, which merits further exploration (e.g., by studying the performance of the model and OMF surgeon cohort on subpopulations, ideally of a much larger test data set). A better understanding of these drivers, whether they be related to image quality, inherent aspects of the radiolucent periapical alterations (e.g., level of progression) or educational differences, may better inform the data collection process for model training. It is important to note, however, that even with clinically or histologically validated training data labels, such issues may persist.
Second, although we evaluated our model using clinically validated labels to establish the ground truth, there remains potential for mislabeling since such clinical tests are subject to misinterpretation and in our case were conducted by one experienced OMF surgeon. This can be controlled, for example, by performing multiple clinical tests of the same patient by multiple OMF surgeons, although this would be a costly endeavor for both the OMF surgeon and the patient. Despite this limitation, we believe using labels based on clinical tests is nevertheless better than common alternatives for labeling, such as inter-observer agreement, which has inherent biases and limitations.
Finally, although we have tested our algorithm on an independent data set of 102 images with clinically validated labels, further tests will be required to demonstrate generalizability of our model to data collected from other sites. The concern here, again, centers on biases that may be learned from training data collected from a single source (for example, if imaging practices differ by institution or if patient populations differ). In future studies, a training set collected from multiple sites would likely lead to greater robustness of the algorithm across sites.
In general, a major challenge for ML applications in radiology remains of how to attain a super-human level of performance. In this work, achieving such levels of performance will require a larger, higher quality labeled training data set. Literature has shown that such performance may be possible by increasing our dataset size 10- to 100-fold and through multiple labeling of the same training data set by different annotators or by acquiring clinically, if possible, even histologically, validated labels for the training data set [38
]. These strategies, however, would come at significant cost due to the human-expert resources required. It is important to note, however, that histological diagnoses have limitations as well. Although in this case the PPV is expected to be 1.0 (all case instances diagnosed as positive are positive), the TPR will presumably remain less than 1.0, since a dentist/ OMF surgeon must make a decision about whether or not to perform a histological diagnosis. Evidence of a radiolucent periapical alteration would not necessarily lead to extraction of the tooth in order to obtain tissue samples for histological analysis. Without some prompt to take the necessary tests (e.g., due to a missed indication on a radiograph or no reports of pain), the lesion may still be missed. Because of this, we see value in offering an algorithmic solution to enhance the likelihood of drawing attention to potential lesions in a radiograph, prompting the dentist/ OMF surgeon to perform further tests.
The question remains as to why panoramic views were used to diagnose periapical radiolucencies instead of, for example, periapical radiographs in this study. Radiolucent periapical alterations can be detected with several different image modalities, with periapical radiographs being the standard for endodontic radiography. However, this modality displays only one or a few teeth, and when measured against a gold standard (i.e., in cadaver or histological studies) it showed a low discriminatory performance [40
]. Cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) is a 3D image modality that has shown the best discriminatory performance [41
]. Nevertheless, it has a limited use due to high costs and associated radiation dose. Panoramic radiographs on the other hand has an overall good diagnostic discriminatory ability and allows the assessment of the entire dentition plus surrounding bony structures, while requiring significantly lower doses of radiation compared to CBCT imaging [33
]. Herein, many general dental practices as well as OMF surgeons choose to use panoramic radiography due to these benefits [33
Artificial intelligence has the potential to improve clinical outcomes and further raise the value of medical imaging in ways that lie beyond our imaginations. Especially in medical imaging, AI is rapidly moving from an experimental phase to an implementation phase. Given the major advances in image recognition through deep learning, it is tempting to assume that the role of the radiologist will soon diminish. However, this notion disregards the regulatory limitations placed on the use of AI in a clinical setting. For example, the FDA and the European Conformity committee (CE) presently only allow such software as an assistive device. The complex work of radiologists includes many other tasks that require common sense and general intelligence, by integrating medical concepts from different clinical specialties and scientific fields that cannot yet be achieved through AI.
In addition to regulatory barriers, the impact of AI in dentistry and any other specialty will depend on human–machine interactions. Questions remain around how likely an expert would take the suggestion of an algorithm and perform further tests. How does presentation of the AI prediction impact the expert’s response? Would patients trust such algorithms? How do the answers to these questions vary by culture or with time as confidence in AI grows? We do not make any attempt to address such questions in this study, but understanding these issues will be important for the future of AI in medical imaging.