Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Mines Students Design Initial Protype for Remote Robotic Dentistry

Biomedical engineering majors on the Carpenter Robotic Dental Team, Kara Huse, Jillian Linder and Logan Jundt, pose in the spring of 2023 with a prosthetic model they named “Chip.” They are using this model in the design of a prototype robot to enable a dentist to fill cavities remotely. 

Robotic surgery has been an important tool in medicine for a number of years, but in dentistry, robots have not yet seen widespread use. One team of biomedical engineering students at South Dakota Mines is taking the first steps to change this fact. The team has spent the last year working with a local dentist in an effort to build an initial prototype to someday enable remote robotic dentistry.

It all started with Dr. Chad Carpenter, a Rapid City dentist who often serves rural and isolated communities in South Dakota. Many of Carpenter’s patients live where local dentists are few and far between. Carpenter realized that increasing the ability to do remote dentistry could help increase access to dental care in these underserved communities.

The goal is to create an automated device that can be set up by a hygienist inside a local facility. This sort of device could enable a dentist to remotely oversee the work using the robotic extension, such as filling a cavity.

Robotic Dental Device 2023“We’re trying to automate the drilling of cavities,” says Logan Jundt, a senior biomedical engineering major who will graduate in May. “The end goal is to have a 3D printed filling ready to be inserted into a predetermined cutting pathway.”

The team notes that modern dentistry already employees complex and highly detailed 3D scans of the mouth and all the teeth, so a procedure like a filling could be planned out in the digital realm well in advance of any procedure.

“The dentist could be there for the initial consult, use the scans of the patient and the robot could automate the process,” adds Jillian Linder, a senior biomedical engineering major who will graduate in May.

The team also believes this process could save the patient and the dentist time.

“I think the benefit is the filling is already created prior to the drilling because of the predetermined cutting path, so the patient does not have to wait for a filling to be printed. With this, all the planning is done ahead of time under the oversight of the dentist; the final procedure is automated and does not take that long,” says Linder.

The final vision of this sort of product could benefit both dentists and patients, but team members also recognize that building a dental robot is a daunting task. They hope their prototype is the first of many to come in the years of product development ahead.

“It’s been quite the process and it’s been really fun exploring this challenge,” says Kara Huse, a senior biomedical engineering major who will graduate in May. The team sourced many resources from across campus to build this this initial prototype.

Biomedical engineering is a highly transdisciplinary field, and the collaborative spirit on the Mines campus enables students to draw from many disciplines in their effort to find creative solutions to complex problems.

The team’s prototype uses custom 3D printed dentistry impression trays to secure the automated device to the mouth. The device includes a dental handpiece with three dimensions of movement to get to the area that needs attention.

“This design was kind of inspired off how a 3D printer moves, but this device would be mounted to the mouth,” says Jundt.

Some parts of the device are 3D printed specifically for each patient. This way they can be disposed of after each procedure to avoid the need to sterilize all parts of the device between each use. “A future team could also explore utilizing a self-stabilizing arm to drill cavities,” Linder adds.

The team recognizes that part of the challenge here is the stigma around both dentists and robots.

“It's kind of a scary concept for some people, but people are becoming more accustomed to robotics over time,” says Jundt.  The team believes that as robots become more accepted, it’s possible they could someday be more trusted than humans for procedures like this.

Team members also point out that Food and Drug Administration approval for new biomedical devices can take decades. They recognize their prototype is just an initial step in a device that could take many years to implement.  At the same time, they have enjoyed the challenges of this project.

“It’s been a lot of fun, and Dr. Carpenter and his dental team have been a huge help,” says Huse. “We are excited to hand off the work we did over the past year to the next team in the coming year,” says Linder. “Where this can go is the most exciting part. We are just starting the foundation here but so much could be added with advanced robotics, computer vision and machine learning,” Jundt adds.

This team is part of the first undergraduate cohort of the newly formed Department of Nanoscience & Biomedical Engineering at Mines. “I think it's noteworthy that our first incoming class of students are doing such a great job in senior design,” says Scott Wood, Ph.D., the team’s advisor and an assistant professor in the department. “This is one of many examples of amazing research happening on all levels of our new and rapidly growing department.”



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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