Sep 25, 2017 | By Benedict

A robot has carried out a dental operation all by itself. The one-hour surgery took place in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, China, and involved a robot following a pre-programmed set of commands to implant two 3D printed teeth into a woman’s mouth.

3D printing and dentistry has been in the news a lot lately. Just last week, dental innovator Align Technology announced it had surpassed a billion dollars in sales for 2017, largely thanks to its 3D printed Invisalign dental aligners. We also took a look at dental startup Candid, whose own FDA-approved aligners cost a fraction of Invisalign.

Today brings tooth-related news of an entirely different nature, and if you thought those 3D printed aligners sounded futuristic, then get a load of this.

A robot in China has performed dental surgery without human assistance, fitting a woman with two 3D printed teeth in a one-hour procedure. Although we don't know much about the 3D printed teeth, we know that the patient was under local anesthetic during the operation, which took place on September 16 at the College of Oral Medicine, part of the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi'an. We also know a bit about the unusual robot dentist.

Now if you’re wondering why an autonomous robot dentist would ever be necessary, its designers at Beihang University and Fourth Military Medical University have a good explanation. They say that, despite dental innovations like 3D printed aligners and teeth, there’s a shortage of qualified dentists in China. This is encouraging tech companies and researchers to find new solutions, shortening the waiting list for routine dental procedures.

One solution is—of course—robot dentists. And this particular techno tooth fitter is already up to speed, reportedly implanting the 3D printed teeth with a margin of error of just  0.2-0.3 mm—no worse than the average human surgeon.

It can even do some things that human dentists can’t. For example, the robot was better at maneuvering in the small space of the mouth, and it doesn’t need to use eyes up on its head to see.

Admittedly, the whole ordeal does sound pretty scary. Can the robot react if the patient suddenly feels a lot of pain? Can it compensate for unexpected movement? Apparently, it can. Although obviously not as sensitive to live events as a human dentist, the robot is at least able to recognize and compensate for head movement, meaning a jolt of the patient’s head won’t cause the robot to push teeth into her nose.

Perhaps more importantly, real human dentists were also on hand to make sure nothing went wrong, and assistants were required to first calibrate the robot by putting positioning devices on the patient’s mouth.

This guidance system, consisting of a 3D printed frame and several markers, helped the robot understand where each part of the patient’s mouth was, and was put together with the help of a CT scan of the patient’s mouth.

The end goal is to have the robo-dentist working both autonomously and unsupervised.

China reportedly has around 400 million patients awaiting new teeth. With a new generation of robot dentists and dental 3D printing solutions, the country’s mass toothache could soon be soothed.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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