The dentist of the future – a robot?
Did you read the reports that made the dental industry around the world sit up and take notice: In China, a robot dentist completed the first ever implant surgery – without any human intervention. Medical staff was present, however, they merely monitored the robot’s activities. What does this mean for the future: Will machines be treating patients soon?

Robot dentist reacts to patient movements

Under the supervision of expert operators, the robot dentist autonomously inserted two implants in the mouth of a patient. The one-hour procedure took place in a dental practice in the Chinese province of Shaanxi. The supposed robot is reported to have the ability to react to the movements of patients and can therefore adjust its position as necessary.

Four years of development

According to circulating media reports, the development of the robot took four years. The dentist robot project was driven by two main factors: the shortage of dentists and the high demand for implants in China. Apparently, 400 million people in this country are in need of dental implants.

Project in the US

US economist Shoshana Zuboff once said that “Everything that can be automated will be automated.” Therefore, it comes as no surprise to find that comparable ventures are underway in other parts of the world. For example, a project in the US has a similar objective: A few months ago, a robot like the one in China received FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval. The American dentist robot differs from its Chinese “colleague” in that it will initially serve in only an assistive capacity. The machine is designed to shorten surgical procedures and heighten their precision. Furthermore, the robot will make sure that the drills used are properly aligned and controlled. This will eliminate the need for drilling templates in the future.

Dentists are indispensable

Does this approach provide a viable solution for patients in regions in which dental professionals are scarce? Can or should machines replace the skill and expertise of dentists? How will patients react to robot dentists? Is everything that is technically feasible also desirable? Torsten Meyer-Elmenhorst, a dentist at Ivoclar Vivadent AG, is not concerned about these developments: “Robots are only capable of doing what humans teach them. They will execute high precision working steps according to specific data sets. Nevertheless, systems of this kind will always play an assistive role. In future, the knowledge of qualified dentists – and therefore human specialists – will remain indispensable in determining indications and in decision-making.”

Read the original report about the Chinese dentist robot by clicking here.


Are you interested in other digital topics? If so, you might like to read the latest issue of Reflect!

Subscribe to Reflect free of charge