Japan recently unveiled that they have created the first ever robotic dental nurse. The same news story revealed that the country is also developing another robot that will be capable of assisting with simple tasks such as taking notes, greeting patients and draping and preparing for treatment.
This begs the question –what impact will these robots have on the future of dentistry? Japanese trainee dentists at the Showa University in Tokyo already use a robot patient for practice procedures. This animatronic piece of technology is programmed to exhibit a number of human behaviours including eye rolling, blinking, sneezing and coughing, all of which are common human behaviours that can impact dental treatment. The robot is even capable of simulating a gag reflex and will complain when it has had its mouth open too long – eerily human characteristics that help to ensure it provides students with a life-like patient encounter.
Technology such as this can be approached in two ways. First, we must recognise that robots like this are undoubtedly beneficial to students as it gives them a taste of the patient experience without the possibility of human harm. On the other side we have to think – if a robot is capable of performing routine dental tasks or even implant surgery (a robot dentist carried out a successful fully automated implant treatment in Xi’an last year) will dentists eventually become superfluous as the technology advances?
In my opinion this is unlikely to be the case, or at least not for a very, very long time. These robots still require human programming and a dentist present to operate properly, and if the comparatively rather slow implementation of digital technologies in dentistry is anything to go by, it’ll be a long time before we see dental nurses or any other members of the team replaced by robots. For now, we must simply admire the leaps and bounds in dental technology that are happening across the globe, and hope that these innovations can continue to help our quest to provide the best level of patient care.