robot dentistWould you like to get your dental care from a robot?

If you said “no, thanks,” you’re in a narrow majority. According to a recent survey, 51% said they “were moderately or strongly opposed to robotic dentistry.”

Of course, it makes a difference what type of procedure is asked about. While most expressed little opposition to having a robot do a cleaning or teeth whitening – especially if the service was offered at a reduced rate – a majority also said “no” to invasive robotic procedures such as extractions or gum surgery.

Sure, some of this is fueled by anxiety about the way technology impacts our lives, for better and worse. But it also calls to mind the need and desire for human connection, particularly in healthcare. We want to be seen and heard and respected as people.

“It’s the relationship that heals”, says Dr. Irvin D. Yalom, Psychiatry professor at Stanford University…. A good relationship is based on care and the will to relieve patients’ suffering.

Where there is care, empathy, honesty, and clear communication, better patient outcomes tend to follow.

You have to wonder about the potential impact of robotics on that relationship. Even where the dental team is involved, technology can create a kind of psychic distance between them and the patient.

But the prospect of robotic dentistry also rests on the outdated notion that dentistry is more a matter of mechanics than supporting good overall health. In that view, the dentist is little more than a glorified mouth mechanic; a fixer, not a partner in health and healing. The mouth is overwhelmingly treated in isolation from the rest of the body, as though what is done in the mouth could not possibly affect any other part of body, mind, or spirit.

From the perspective of biological dentistry, nothing could be farther from the truth. The mouth is one part of a dynamic system, all guided by the health of the biological terrain or extracellular matrix/milieu.

Robots may be fine for any number of tasks, even within dentistry and medicine. But in our view, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the human. Our relationships and connections with each other matter.

Image via Day of the Robot

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