Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 09:18 UK

Dentists practise on robot patient

By Ben Sutherland
BBC World Service

Simroid is attached to a computer, which works out her responses

Trainee Japanese dentists now have a way to avoid causing pain and damage if they mix up their molars - by practising on a robotic patient.

The robot, called Simroid, has sensors in its teeth and body which feed back on how well the dentist is doing.

Movements such as blinks and muffled gurgles are designed to show normal patient responses such as fear, discomfort, pain and tension - without putting any real person's mouth at risk.

"I made this robot so that students can understand patients' feelings," said Professor Naotake Shibui of the division of pediatric dentistry at the Nippon Dental University Hospital in Tokyo.

"Then they become a dentist who doesn't just concentrate on technique but also understands the patient. Everyone is a little afraid when they come to the dentist, and we should appreciate that," he told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

Red light

Sensors in the robot's teeth trigger red lights to illustrate when a drill has gone too far.

However, the robot, which is designed to look like a female, has sensors in other areas on its body too, to provide feedback about the patient's whole experience.

Digital Planet's Gareth Mitchell with Simroid
The robot patient's open mouth simulates communication with dentists

Dr Shibui explained that when a dentist accidentally touches the robot's breasts, for example, it is indicated that the patient would feel uncomfortable.

"The whole training session can be recorded and you can review it anytime you want," he added. "We can stop the video and tell our students, 'you had a red light because you touched the patient here'."

The robot has also been designed so that when it speaks, it does so with the open-mouthed series of grunts familiar to anyone who has sat in the dentist's chair with a mouthful of foam.

Dr Shibui, who has been working on the project for two years, said that treating the robot as a real patient was essential to training.

"Actually talking to the patient makes you understand their feelings," he said.

Digital Planet is broadcast on BBC World Service every Tuesday. You can listen online or download the podcast .

Print Sponsor

Machines training future dentists
14 Mar 05 |  Wales
Gene could allow lab-grown teeth
24 Feb 09 |  Health
Why are we so scared of dentists?
17 Feb 09 |  Magazine
Q&A: NHS dentistry
18 May 09 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific