In China, the future is now for technology in dentistry, for a robot dentist has successfully completed the first autonomous dental implant surgery by placing two new teeth into a woman’s mouth. The procedure took one hour, and no human actors played an active role during the procedure (although human medical staff was present during the procedure). The implants had a margin of error of 0.2-0.3mm, which is the proper standard for this type of procedure. The procedure even used artificial teeth that were created by three-dimensional printing technology.
Although this may sound like a lavish experiment in trying to mesh reality with science fiction, this new technology actually was created to fulfill a very important and very real need in China. The technology was designed to help solve China’s shortage of qualified dentists and the minimize the frequent surgical errors that have been occurring. One survey estimates that there are 400 million patients needing new teeth, but China does not have sufficient qualified dentists to meet that demand. Around one million teeth implants are done in China each year, and if done incorrectly can leave the patient to face further medical problems.
Proponents of the technology tout that the robot combines the dentists’ expertise with the precision of computerized technology. China recognized that dental surgeons have to work in very small spaces in the mouth, with poor visibility, and makes the dental implant surgery very difficult to carry out. To address these problems, the creators of the technology fitted the patient with position orientation equipment, and determined the proper position, movements, angles, and depths needed for the robot to complete the procedure. These movements and measurements were then tested before the procedure was conducted with the actual patient. The robot was so precise, that the technology allowed adjustments to be made in line with the patient’s own movements.
Although the use of robot technology in dentistry is not new (i.e., robots have been used in root canal surgery and orthodontic operations, this signals a new evolution in the dental profession. The world is following China’s lead, for in March 2017 the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the use of a robot system to assist human surgeons in fitting dental implants. Welcome to the future.