When you think about medical advancements, maybe you think about breakthrough pharmaceuticals. Maybe you think about technologies that revolutionize organ regeneration.
If we’re honest, you wouldn’t be alone if dentistry didn’t top your list of “cutting edge” medical professions.
If you’re a young adult, maybe you haven’t even noticed many changes at your local Carrollton dentist’s office since you were a child. However, don’t let that impression shape your entire view. Just like in other medical specialties like orthopedics and neurology, dentists are increasingly relying on innovations like robots to aid in procedures today.
Before you become too concerned that those here at Josey Lane Dentistry will be replaced by robots, we want to bring you up to speed on all the fascinating ways that technology—including the use of robotics and AI—is (and will be) advancing the dentistry and making it safer and more comfortable for you, the patient.
At this time, robots can be used for two primary purposes in dentistry:
- Actually performing procedures on patients
- And to allow dentists to practice complex dental procedures
Dentistry has seen massive advancements (and improvements) from the traditional techniques used just 30 years ago to the digital world that has widened the scope of dental treatments. The use of robotics in dentistry is broadening more every day along with all the necessary technologies around it.
Some of today’s most groundbreaking technologies overall are already being used in dentistry, such as image-based simulation of implant surgery and the use of surgical guides and creating digital impressions intraoral scanners for tooth restorations.
At this time, robots are most commonly used for dental therapy training. Some of these training simulations are so realistic that they can even include typical patient gestures and responses, allowing dental students to experience what it’s like to work with real patients with all their squirmishness, concerns, and natural responses to dental procedures.
On the other side of the spectrum are robots that are able to complete or assist dentists in completing certain procedures. If this seems like something out of a science fiction flick, the truth is that this technology is already being implemented.
While some technologies in other industries can be run without the use of humans, dental robotics, however, do require a skilled dentist behind the instrument. Although the robotic world of precision and accuracy is also a discussion point in many areas, it still comes with certain limitations. There is always a quest for advancement, however. As a product, robotic dentistry is a “fiction” that could be a far more common reality in short time.
How are robots used in dentistry?
While technology might be rapidly moving towards robotic dentistry, researchers have found that patients have already been ready to embrace the future. Of a recent survey’s participants, 32% were opposed to teeth cleaning or whitening done by a robot at full price, but 83% said they’d be fine if the service offered a 50% discount. Surveys like this one are something that robotics companies are taking into consideration when creating and producing these tools.
Patients who are at all concerned about being “worked on” by a robot don’t need to worry to much yet, however. At this time, robots are mostly used for digital impressions, digital milling, and digital laser measurements.
Milling, in particular, used to be done by hand. This required significant time, and there was always the possibility of human error. Now, thanks to the digital age, robotic milling machines do the milling for you. The dentist simply does the design work on the computer.
In 2017, a robot dentist in China successfully operated on a patient. This procedure lasted about an hour and involved the implanting of two teeth into a woman’s mouth. The artificial teeth, created using 3D printing technology, were fitted within a margin of error of 0.2 – 0.3 mm — the standard required for the type of surgery the robot performed. China has taken the lead in utilizing this technology to overcome provider shortages as well as to address an epidemic of human error that plagued dentistry in China for many years.
In the United States, a dental assistant known as Yomi recently received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is also expected to improve the success of dental procedures. Yomi is the only surgical robotic system focused on the dental industry, and delivers physical guidance through the use of haptic robotic technology. Haptic tech constrains the dental drill in position, and also in its orientation and depth. This assistive technology leaves the surgeon in control at all times. Yomi also provides flexibility during surgery by allowing the surgeon to dynamically change the plan. A dentist uses a keyboard to direct Yomi’s movements.
Dentistry of the future
Dental schools have begun to embrace technologies like this, too. Professors note that failure to teach concepts like robotics could also mean their students are left behind the times. From dental records to creating implants to x-rays, most of dentistry has moved to the digital platform. Using technology such as robotics and AI in dentistry allows for greater precision and eliminates human error. Couple that with the data mining of AI, and dentists will be able to determine what is best for the patient in a new and ever-more exact way.
These technologies will remain dependent, however, on trained dental professionals to input their data. As data collection grows, so will the breadth of AI. From smart toothbrushes to augmented reality and computer-assisted 3-D printing, dentistry has been quickly moving forward technologically.