WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Globally there’s a huge shortage of qualified dentists, but in the future that might not be a problem now that robots are on the case…
We’ve all volunteered for weird things in our lives, whether it’s something we want to do or not and the medical field is a great example of volunteering gone mad. After all, how else would we know that heart transplants really worked if there hadn’t been any volunteer Guinea Pigs? And in a world where we’re seeing more surgical robots entering the scene, from robots that can perform brain surgery, albeit in a test environment for now, fifty times faster than a human surgeon, to robots like STAR in the operating room it’s likely we’ll be needing a lot more brave volunteers.
Earlier this week though a Chinese woman took another one for the team when she volunteered to have two 3D printed teeth implanted in her mouth by a robot dentist. Yes, you heard that right! 3D printed teeth, it’s almost as amazing as hearing the news that there’s a new biomaterial in town that can help us grow our teeth back. Oh yes, and the dentist was a robot. Yawn.
There’s a major shortage of dentists in China and about 400 million people are in need of dental implants but despite that each year only about a million people actually get them, so as a result it’s inevitable that some people turn to cowboy dentists, and, let’s face it, that’s never going to end well…
As a result it’s hoped that this first of a kind autonomous surgery, which took place last week, and that as far as anyone can tell is the first time a completely autonomous robot has performed dental surgery on a person, will help fill this shortage of qualified dentists, as well as cut back on problems caused by human error.
Now, for most people it has to be said that going to the dentist in itself is a harrowing enough proposition, but being treated on by a completely autonomous robot dentist? Well, that’s just got to fuel some new kind of nightmares for you.
The robot dentist, which took four years to build and doesn’t have a name yet, was developed by the team at the Beihang University Institute of Robotics and the Fourth Military Medical University, was the brainchild of Dr. Zhao Yimin, a leading oral rehabilitation specialist who works with one of the hospitals who said “the robot combines dentists’ expertise and the benefits of technology.”
The surgery itself took place in Xian, Shaanxi, and while human medical staff were present throughout the entire procedure they didn’t take part in the operation, their role was to prep the patient and the robot for surgery, fit the robot’s position orientation equipment to the patient’s mouth, and program it to move to the right position for the surgery. They also determined the angle, depth, and precise movements that the robot would need to follow in order to fit the two 3D printed teeth inside a cavity in the patient’s mouth.
The team then tested the robot out before the actual surgery and collected data to make any necessary adjustments to it before the brave volunteer was given a local anaesthetic and the surgery began. In all the surgery took about an hour and the team reported the robot was able to make adjustments during the operation that were “in line with the patient’s own movements.”
Afterwards experts said the implants reached the required standard for the type of operation, fitting to within a margin of error of 0.2 to 0.3 mm, and if you’re interested in seeing the robot in action, and if you can bear it, then you can take a peek at the video above. You’re so brave. And as for the upsides of this technology of nightmares? Well, it’s not just China who are short of dentists, it’s many of the countries around the world, including the UK, so who knows, in the next ten years one might be coming to your neighbourhood.
Now sit back and say “ARGH!”