Imagining Robots in the Dental Office

  • by Zeyrep Barakat, DMD, FAGD
  • May 16, 2019, 12:25 PM
Imagine if a robot were more accurate in doing sinus lifts than our surgeons, would patients be open to having a robot treat them? Would it be peculiar if a robot gave suggestions to a surgeon on how to extract a complicated third molar extraction after scanning a panoramic x-ray with zero error and post op complications? Or imagine if you replaced your assistant with a “humanoid” who could stock all the office cabinets and walk patients to the front desk? 

I happened to catch the recent “PBS NewsHour” segment on robots and was fascinated by the research on artificial intelligence in the workplace. The story discussed how robots could precisely perform many human tasks without becoming fatigued. It came as no surprise that robots were employed in mass commercial industries, warehouses and assembly lines.More amazing was their role in the medical arena, particularly in performing surgeries and staff assignments in hospitals. 

My father underwent radiosurgery via the CyberKnife®―a robotic radiation delivery system ―and was quite impressed by it.Robotic technology is currently used to perform less invasive surgeries where precision is paramount.And precision is a concept at the very core of dentistry.

I think about a robot scanning an edentulous site and not only planning implant surgery with impeccable accuracy, but also performing multiple surgeries in a row without getting either mentally or physically fatigued.I dream about my assistant being able to focus on chairside patient care and delegating stocking cabinets and cleaning rooms to Rosie the robot.

We dentists often fret about whether we got precisely one drop of bonding agent in our adhesives or counted exactly 15 seconds of etching. Human error is inevitable. 

Still, I shudder to think about a humanoid performing dental surgeries and can’t quite picture a dental patient consenting to treatment from a robot. Then again, I never imagined self-driving cars. 

Perhaps robots will rule dental practices someday, but, until then, our assistants will stock our cabinets, and we human dentists will execute sinus lifts. In the meantime, I would definitely welcome any robot that can do my household chores. 

Originally printed in the San Diego County Dental Society Newsletter, Facets, March 2019.
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