Dental surgeons turn to robot for help placing implants

When David Arnold ended up at the Refresh Me Dental Center in LaGrange with a painful cracked molar that had turned into an abscess, the 64-year-old video production company owner was alarmed to hear he would have to have the entire tooth and quite a bit of bone removed.

"When I lost that permanent molar, it was pretty devastating," Arnold says.

But, once he had healed, Arnold came back to see dental surgeon Dr. Chuck Pitts for implant surgery.

That is when he saw the Yomi dental robot.

"And, I thought, wow, this is what the future of dentistry looks like," Arnold says.

Robots are a routine part of many operations in the U.S., but Yomi is the first and only robotic system used for dental surgery.

Dr. Pitts estimates he's used the combination of the Yomi system's software and his 3D X-ray technology to place implants for at least 100 patients since he got the system in January.

Pitts says the robotic-guided technology has been especially helpful for surgeries that involve patients who have lost a lot of bone, which can make it harder to anchor implants.

"Because I can accurately and precisely get exactly where I want to place it, I can take advantage of bone that otherwise may not have been a safe place to go if I were free-handing," Pitts says.  "So, it gives me a lot more versatility and a lot more precision."

He says Yomi also speeds things up.

"Once we have the patient sedated and have given the local anesthetic, I can place four to six implants in 30 to 40 minutes, and it used to take me three to four hours," Pitts says.

He can also improvise and make changes, Pitts says, if something unexpected comes up during the surgery.

"If I get in the mouth, and something looks unusual to me anatomically, I can tell one of my assistants, 'Let's move that implant two millimeters this way, or 1.5 millimeters this way,'" Pitts says.  "She can click, click, click, and the plan changes on the fly."

David Arnold says his implant surgery was painless, and he had no bleeding.

"It was probably the best experience I've had. No, it was the best experience I've had in a dental chair," he says.