At a Canberra laboratory, a tiny device that fits on your ailing tooth aims to change modern dentistry

Dentroid Technologies partners Dr Omar Zuaiter (left) and Alaa Habeb are developing robotic laser dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney
Dentroid Technologies partners Dr Omar Zuaiter (left) and Alaa Habeb are developing robotic laser dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney

Peering into a patient's open mouth has now become one of the potentially deadliest tasks that any health professional can undertake.

Through the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the work by a little-known Canberra company in developing miniaturised, "hands-off" robotic dental treatment has become hugely important to future clinical outcomes and protecting dentists and their patients from becoming infected.

For Omar Zuaiter and Alaa Habeb, co-founders of Canberra's Dentroid Technologies, the pandemic has rushed their cutting-edge dental technology, once considered a futuristic "out-there" concept, to the forefront of medical necessity.

"I think, with this COVID-19 contagion, we are seeing an unprecedented need to change the way dentists have been treating people for hundreds of years," Dr Zuaiter said.

"The pandemic has accelerated our awareness of this issue and the risks it now poses to dentists, far beyond what we would have anticipated even 12 months ago.

"So the work we are doing now is hugely important to the future of patient treatment and clinician safety."

 Dr Omar Zuaiter and Alaa Habeb are developing robotic laser dentistry that could revolutionise dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney

Dr Omar Zuaiter and Alaa Habeb are developing robotic laser dentistry that could revolutionise dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney

Dentroid's "silver bullet" for future dentistry is smaller than a box of matches.

Mr Habeb oversees the engineering challenges, which are much the same as those which confront a master watchmaker.

The Dentroid device fits onto your ailing tooth, examines and 3D-maps it using vision systems, uses artificial intelligence and special lights to diagnose what treatment is required, then under the guidance of a dental practitioner, treats the tooth using "smart" laser beams for common procedures such as removing decay or preparing for a filling or a crown.

"The diagnosis element is stage one and this is such a critical part; by having AI assist the dentist in making the correct diagnosis, we will have absolute certainty as to the correct treatment," Dr Zuaiter said.

The next stages are having the device perform the required treatment. The dentist will use a joystick and a computer mousepad to guide microdrills.

"What we are seeing with this form of treatment, we think, will reduce the need for patient anaesthesia by around 80 per cent," he said.

"So this results in much fewer needles, much more accurate diagnosis, much more precise treatment, a hugely reduced physical burden on the dentist, and a dramatic drop in infection risk."

'Smart' lasers and miniaturised robotics are set to revolutionise modern dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney

'Smart' lasers and miniaturised robotics are set to revolutionise modern dentistry. Picture: Karleen Minney

The potential for the Canberra-developed technology is enormous, as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt acknowledged when he visited the Dentroid's laboratories last year.

With regular dental care very difficult to deliver to remote and regional communities, this type of technology allows a dentist to perform a procedure from hundreds of kilometres away.

It's potentially of major benefit to defence forces working in developing countries with poor health services. Servicemen and women who suffered a dental issue while operating in war-torn Afghanistan, for instance, had to be flown out to Germany for treatment.

Equally important is the physical protection offered to the dentist and their staff and patients, an issue now of such concern that it has led to a number of restrictions placed on the extent of patient treatment by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

"What the COVID-19 pandemic has done is rushed long-standing issues for our profession at us, at a speed which we never expected," Dr Zuaiter said.

"There is a very real imperative now to change the way we diagnose and treat our patients because of this significant new risk."

The technology won't meet the immediate needs of the dental profession. However, the need won't go away.

Accelerated by the coronavirus, a paradigm shift has occurred and now it's a matter of when, not if, this technology begins appearing in dental surgeries.

"Any advanced medical technology such as this requires measured development and testing," Mr Habeb said, with clinical trials expected to start within the next 18 months.

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This story Tiny robot aims to change modern dentistry first appeared on The Canberra Times.