Robotics 'scratching the surface' in dentistry and digging deeper

Although several medical specialties have become well versed with robotic technology for surgical planning and performance, dentistry has only touched the tip of the iceberg.

The Yomi is the first and only FDA-cleared robot-assisted dental surgery system in the U.S. and is being used in dental implant procedures. Although more than 100 Yomi robots are in use nationwide, only three dental schools — Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, West Virginia University School of Dentistry and New York University College of Dentistry — are using it.

Alon Mozes, PhD, co-founder and CEO of Neocis, the robot's manufacturer, said he and his partner, co-founder Juan Salcedo, came up with idea to create a dental robot during their time at robotics company Mako before it was acquired by Stryker in 2013, when they saw the success of the technology in orthopedics.

Mozes said his company is "just scratching the surface" in dentistry and there are opportunities for growth in the field, to which dentists have been open.

"The stereotype of the dentist is that they tend to be slower to adopt new things [and] technology hasn't really hit the dental market, but it's just not true anymore," Mozes said. "Dentists are eager to adopt new technology, especially dentists that participate in this area of implant surgery. It's really such a high revenue opportunity [and] growing market for them that they're eager to differentiate their practice and figure out how to level up their skills."

Several dentists recently debuted Yomi at their practices, including Robert Payne, DDS, who was the first in Southwest Florida to offer robotic tooth implant surgery, and David Yang, DMD, who gave himself a dental implant using the robot. 

"Less discomfort, better accuracy," Dr. Yang told azfamily.com. "Those are all the things that as much as I would like to say I'm good at, I could never do exactly what this machine does."

Robert Glickman, DMD, associate dean for clinical affairs and hospital relations and chair of the oral and maxillofacial surgery department at the NYU College of Dentistry, said the robot provides an important training opportunity for students by allowing them to become experienced in robotic surgery by the time they enter the field.

"People with little experience, if they initially learn on the robot, they learn about precision surgery. There are other navigational techniques that now they'll be able to incorporate into their practice, but if they don't use robotics, they understand the need to pay attention to detail because of their experience with the robot," Dr. Glickman said.

Dr. Arif Salman, chair of the periodontics department at West Virginia University School of Dentistry, echoed Dr. Glickman's statements on the advantages of teaching students this new technology and said the robot particularly aids in minimally invasive procedures.

He said the slow growth of robotics in dentistry is due to the reliance on mechanical engineers to develop products for dental use and the cost of obtaining these devices, but he could see that changing as competition grows in the marketplace.

Both Dr. Glickman and Dr. Salman said they predict robotic technology will enter new dental specialties and procedures, including endodontics and wisdom teeth extraction.

"The system we used two years before is not the same today. When we got this technology, you could not do an operative change in the plan, but today you can. That's how quickly this technology evolves," Dr. Salman said. "I'm really hoping this technology will offer more in very complex implant surgeries. I'm sure it's going to be a very short time when that is going to be available, and that will be a very big move for the clinicians and the patients, if we can perform those advanced surgeries with the minimally invasive techniques."

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