According to a recent Miami Herald story, there is a small company that is looking to market a dental implant robot. They believe that this robot will improve care for patients, but many people may have anxiety about getting dental implant surgery that is performed by a robot.
Addressing an “Unmet Need”
The small startup company Neocis has been described by its founders as inspired by what they perceived was a great unmet need for robot surgery in the dental implant sector. In response, they began to design their robotic implant dentist. This was 2009, and the initial prototype was built with scrap metal in the garage, working on nights and weekends. But their prototype worked well enough to secure funding in late 2012, and the company began hiring employees in 2013.
Now a working model is being vetted through the FDA process, although the article doesn’t say whether it’s being approved as a new device or as being “substantially equivalent” to other, already-approved, surgical robots.
It’s important to note that Neocis’ robot isn’t autonomous. It doesn’t design a treatment plan, though it may make recommendations based on imaging data. Instead, it’s programmed by the dentist working on the case. The robot just has the capability of following the surgical protocol. With up-close magnification, the dentist can monitor the operation, and can intervene at any time to change the surgical plan.
Surgical Robots Perform Relatively Well
People who are already anxious about the dentist might be even more anxious to think that a robot will be working in their mouth. But there are comparisons with existing robots that might make you more comfortable.
One of the most successful medical procedures being performed by robots is LASIK, laser vision correction. The doctor does little of the actual procedure, but simply programs in the treatment profile, and the robot automatically reshapes the eye. It can track movements of the eye and respond to them so that the treatment is performed with absolute accuracy. A dental implant robot might be able to have a similar ability to automatically adjust to your movements to ensure that the dental implant is being placed exactly where it’s supposed to.
Is There Really a Need?
Of course, the big question is whether there’s really a need for a dental implant robot. With success rates well over 95% for dental implants, and dental implants lasting ten years, twenty years, or more, results are already good. And with most failures being related to patient factors like gum disease, smoking, or just failure to integrate, it’s unclear how a robot could help.
But we will be interested to see what information comes out of clinical trials, and we will consider any technology that can improve the experience for our patients.