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Survey explores public perceptions of robot-performed dental procedures

An online survey of 502 people found strong aversion toward more-invasive robot-performed dental procedures, such as root canal therapy, while there was greater acceptance regarding others, like tooth whitening, when offered at a discount. (Photograph: Phonlamai Photo/Shutterstock)

Mon. 9. April 2018

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BOSTON, U.S.: The evolution of robotics in everyday application has been a well-publicized topic for decades. Dentistry is by no means out of the reach of automation advancement and humans’ desire to evolve, and according to a new online survey, a mixture of wariness and a tendency to want to save money may dictate its future development.

To help better understand the public’s level of acceptance regarding the use of robots in dentistry, researchers from the Daytona Beach, Florida, campus of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, U.S., surveyed 502 participants (260 women and 242 men), asking which out of ten possible procedures they would feel comfortable having a robot perform. This was followed by a series of similar questions, with the added variant that the price would be reduced by 50 percent.

According to the survey’s results, 51 percent of the respondents were moderately or strongly opposed to robotic dentistry—with particular aversion regarding root canal therapy, tooth extraction and periodontal surgery, for which 66 percent were moderately or strongly opposed to the idea of a robot executing the procedure. However, of the ten procedures, the two that participants were less concerned about a robot performing were tooth cleaning and whitening. Here, 32 percent were opposed to the idea of a robot undertaking the task at full price, while 83 percent would be willing to undergo the procedure if the price was reduced by 50 percent.

“It’s important to understand consumer perceptions of autonomous technologies,” said Embry-Riddle graduate student Emily Anania, lead student author of the survey. “People are not always accepting of emerging technologies. We know from many different studies, for example, that driverless cars and autonomous aircraft technologies cause some people to react with fear or anger. Better insights to those perceptions will be essential in order to increase acceptance of these technologies.”

Other than the ones already mentioned, the procedures included in the survey were applying sealant, applying a crown, bonding, applying orthodontic appliances and performing a standard filling.

Results from the survey were presented at the 2018 International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care, held on March 26–28 in Boston.

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