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What’s most scaring: a dentist or a robot-dentist?


For the first time a robot played the role of a dentist. Everything went fine, yet, I wouldn’t have liked to be the patient. Credit: Engadget

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. We have had robo-surgeons for some years now, with thousands of surgery performed and a track record that beats the one of human surgeons. So why not robo-dentists?

In Xi’an, China, a robo dentist performed the implant of two teeth on a (very brave) woman. More than that: the teeth were manufactured using a 3D printer.

The robot was “assisted” by human dentists that did not played any active role (except anaesthetising the patient), they were there … just in case.  The operation took one hour and the teeth where implanted with a precision of 0.2mm, which is as good as one of the best dentist.

The robo-dentist was created through a joint collaboration of the Fourth Military University and the Beihang University of Beijing to meet the need of dentists in China, in short supply and in high demand. Every year over a million implants are executed in China, and these are not sufficient to meet demand. Even worse, dentists are not as good as they should be resulting in bad implants and need for further surgery.

Special “beacons” positioned on the patient guided the robo-dentist to the exact spot and allowed the robo-dentit to compensate for movements of the patient.

There are already a number of robo-dentist assistants, helping human dentists in orthodontic surgery and root canal surgery active in the US, Japan and South Korea. In March 2017 the FDA has approved Yomi, a robo dentist assistant specialised in implants (see second clip).

Summing up: the robo-dentist is more accurate than the average dentist, so it’s a no brainer. I should choose it rather than a human dentist, yet it scares me more, and you?

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.