Dr. Hanife Bayraktaroglu knows a mouth can be a delicate place.

As a prosthodontist at Smile Rehab Center in Southlake, she frequently does dental implants for patients. A wrong angle might hit a nerve. Too large of an incision could mean longer healing times. 

So when she heard about a new robot on the market that could help with implants, she immediately requested a demo.

She was amazed. 

“I’m like, wow, this is mind-blowing,” Bayraktaroglu said. “It’s so precise and exact. I’m like, this is what we need. That’s the missing piece.”

Now, she has done more than 110 procedures with the robot arm, called Yomi, since she got it last year. While the field of medicine has used robots for many years, dentistry has been slower to catch up, Bayraktaroglu said. Yomi is the first dental robot approved, in 2017, by the Food and Drug Administration to give dentists a more steady hand during surgery. 

“It has this haptic guidance. Even if the patient moves a little bit, the robot actually has the ability to follow that,” Bayraktaroglu said. “So you get precise placement every single time. How amazing is that? It’s peace of mind.” 

During surgery, the robot helps Bayraktaroglu’s hand as it grips a drill. It helps her drill the correct angle and direction. A marker inside the patient’s mouth, along with an implant plan on a computer, guides the robot. 

Worry not, the robot doesn’t have a mind of its own. 

Joanna Chapman, a clinical business representative at Neosis Inc., the Miami-based company that develops the Yomi arm, said there’s a human “driver” behind a laptop in the operating room that helps unlock and guide the robot into place. She describes the process as a call and response between the doctors and the person behind the computer in the operating room.

“A surgeon is always in control … the FDA isn’t going to approve anything that can run on its own,” Chapman said. “(Bayraktaroglu will) say ‘free’ and then she’ll move the arm … but she’s always in control of it.”

Specialists monitor a dental implant surgery March 22 at Smile Rehab Centers, 245 W. State Highway 114 in Southlake. Doctors use an implant plan to program the Yomi robot that doctors use during surgery. Assistants “drive” the robot to unlock and guide the arm. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Neocis Inc. representatives train the dentists on how to use the $150,000 robot. Across the country, 150 dentists use the Yomi, with five in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Another benefit of the robot, Bayraktaroglu said, is that the healing time for patients is faster. That’s because the robot makes much smaller incisions than a human would. The robot follows a plan doctors make on a computer, along with placing a “link” inside the patient’s mouth to help the robot see. 

“The robot will guide you in the right direction,” Bayraktaroglu said. “And if you try to deviate from that, you’re going to feel resistance.”

Yudith Allen needed dental implants for five teeth. She started doing Google searches about different doctors that did dental implants and eventually landed on Bayraktaroglu’s office. 

She didn’t know what to think or expect about the Yomi robot. Bayraktaroglu explained to her that the robot was going to make the procedure more precise. When Allen got the implant in August, she described the procedure as easy and painless. She wasn’t scared of the idea of a robot in her mouth.

“I guess I was her perfect client,” Allen said. “Because I did not even think about it at all. I was like ‘Oh, OK, cool.’ Technology is so advanced nowadays … you can kind of expect anything.”

 Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120

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Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....