Robot dentists might sound like the stuff of far-fetched science fiction, but all the way over in Xian, Northwest China, they’re already a reality. In an intricate operation, two synthesised teeth were implanted into a woman’s mouth. The operation was done to an error margin of just 0.2-0.3 millimetres, which is the expected level of accuracy from human dentists.
It’s worth noting that there was still a trained surgical team overlooking the operation
Although it’s incredible to see the advance of artificial intelligence (and exciting to consider future developments within dentistry), we don’t think we’ll be seeing surgeries run entirely by robots just yet!
Stories such as this one often excite the general public – the idea of jobs normally performed by human professionals being taken over by robots is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.
Dentists already in the industry, however, know that such advances are less of an android takeover, and more an extension of the currently available technology for implant planning and placement.
Currently, the process involves a combination of video capture and 3D X-ray technology. This produces a computer milled surgical guide for the dentist performing the operation. The dentist will then use this guide to place the implant drills and put the implants into the correct, pre-planned position.
Essentially, incorporating the ‘robot dentist’ into this process removes any necessity for a human dentist – although only in this particular part of the procedure!
It’s worth noting there was still a trained surgical team overlooking the operation. Before the procedure could take place, a large team had to painstakingly program the robot’s every last move to ensure the process went smoothly. This development of the system took four years. It was a joint project between the Robot Institute at Beihang University and the Fourth Military Medical University.
The team were given an overview of the operation, and spent a great deal of time virtually planning the surgery to ensure that important anatomical structures (such as nerves and large blood vessels) would be avoided by the robot. Medical professionals overlooking the surgery then checked the programmed steps and made alterations (to avoid harming the patient), administered local anaesthetic and let the robot go ahead with the procedure.
While we’re impressed this robot can mimic the skill of a human dentist and account for such intricacies as the slight movements made by the patient during surgery, we hardly think we’ll be out of a job quite yet.
There is, however, a lot to be said about the potential of robotic advances such as this, especially in countries such as China. An estimated 400 million people in China require dental implants, but most cannot access the services they desperately need, due to a shortage of qualified medical professionals able to complete the procedure.
Technological advances like this provide hope for affordable surgeries, and a solution for similar problems caused by overpopulation in the future.
It also removes the possibility of human error, an occurrence that’s sadly all too common when people are forced to choose dentists that might not have the required qualifications to perform such important procedures. Dr Zhao Yimin, a leading oral rehabilitation specialist in China, has been quoted as saying the robot combines the benefits of technology with dental expertise.
Developments in robotic dental technology are not just limited to China, either. The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved a robot dentist model too, taking another step towards the further automation of dental surgeries worldwide.
However, the amount of resources, robotic expertise and medical personnel needed to complete just one operation means that robot dentists won’t be something you’ll see at your annual check-up for quite some time. Unfortunately for sci-fi fans, it’s currently not cost-effective.
We’re also not too sure what the robot’s chairside manner would be like… would it be programmed to ask you how your weekend was? There’s certainly a level of customer care that might be lacking with a robotic surgical team.
For more information about the dental implant procedures offered by us and our 100% real, 100% human team, contact Mona Vale Dental today.
Also published on Medium.