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Sunday, 1 October 2017

Robot Dentists

Dr. Vincent Wan


It is the age of computers and robots. Tasks that are very complex for human beings can be easily and quickly done by computers. Jobs that are dangerous for human beings can be handled by a robot counterpart. They say artificial intelligence is better as it avoids mistakes made by human error.

A robot has just successfully performed dental implant surgery on a patient in China. Could this be the beginning of more cases and dental procedures to be done this way?

Dental implant surgery is a complex invasive procedure. It involves placement of a titanium screw into the jaw bone where a tooth is already missing or needs to be removed. After two to three months of bone healing around the screw and it is very solid in the jaw bone, a crown can be placed on the implant to replace a tooth.

There are significant risks with dental implant surgery. There are nerves in the jaw bone that if damaged can cause either extreme pain or loss of sensation. There are sinuses in the cheek areas which need to be kept intact for proper breathing and avoid infections. There is only so much width and height of bone to work in. A few millimetres here or there may determine success or failure.

It is estimated that one in twenty dental implant cases may fail for some reason of other. A lot of this may be put down to human error. If a robot is programmed to do this procedure, the theory is that the success rate should be significantly improved.

With a perfectly programmed robot, there should be no hand and wrist muscle fatigue with using our fine motor skills in handling the dental implant instruments in the tight, confined space which is the human mouth. There should be no issues with eyesight and seeing what we are doing. Robots do not need to rest or feel the stress of performing the procedure.