Technological advancements using robotic systems are fast gaining a foothold in the medical world. Under the control of the surgeon, they are usually used in minimally invasive surgery. In some cases, robots can also be used in certain traditional open surgical procedures.

Now, in a world’s first, an implant surgery undertaken by a robot had been carried out in China earlier this month. Under the watchful eyes of human medical staff, a robot had successfully fitted two new teeth into a patient’s mouth during the one-hour procedure in Xian, Shaanxi.

Pre-programming and prepping the robot dentist

Unlike the typical robotic surgeries that we have heard of, this time the robot does the ‘main’ task on its own. A lot of prep work is needed, though.

Prior to the procedure, a special marking system, facilitated by a 3D-printed physical frame, was collected through a CT scan. This contained the data of the patient’s skull and jaw.

The robot was then programmed to move into the right position with the movements, angle and depth needed to fit the new 3D-printed teeth. The movements were tested and the data was collected to make the relevant adjustments.

The patient, with eyes covered up, was all set to go after given a local anesthetic. And next, the robot takes over from here – in the pioneering surgery.

After the implants were in place, dentists then fit the dental base and the dental crown. The implants fitted by the robot were within a margin of error of 0.2 – 0.3mm, which matches the standards required.

With such progress, the robot sounded like it is at a good early stage of automating a part of dentistry work. Most importantly, the patient had undergone the procedure safely and smoothly.

The technology, a collaboration between the Fourth Military Medical University’s Stomatological Hospital and the Beijing-based Beihang University’s robot institute, has the potential to help overcome the shortage of dentists one day.

Future outlook: Robots finding their niche in dentistry?

While it may take some time for patients to ‘warm up’ to having a robot as a dentist, robots do have an edge in dentistry.

Working within a confined space, dental experts said that robots can safely carry out dental surgeries like implantations with higher accuracy. These are areas that can be difficult to view by humans and robots make it perfect to do the job.

Robots can also avoid faults caused by human error.

The push in using technology can help us humans to be more productive or concentrate on less menial tasks. But will certain healthcare roles be on the line, years down the road, when robots start to invade into our working space?

For now, robot-assisted surgeries are moving in to provide an ‘assistant’ role.

Earlier this year, the US FDA had approved the use of a robot assistant for human surgeons when fitting implants. The robot, called Yomi, uses a visual guiding system, similar to a GPS which helps a driver to move around.

While it could still be a long time before a ‘robot takeover’, the rapid pace of development of technology and software has made this is a huge possibility. MIMS

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