By Peter Watt

If you weren’t at ADX14 in Sydney you may not be aware of one of the most eye-popping glimpses into the future of dental education. In fact the future is already here in Australia – and her name is Cindy the Simroid.

Henry Schein Halas together with Morita are the first companies in the Southern Hemisphere to supply Simroid, the world’s first talking, moving robotic patient for dental training. Developed by Nippon Dental University, the world’s largest dental university, and Japanese manufacturing giant Morita Group, Simroid is a remarkably life-like simulated patient, able to react realistically to speech and physical stimuli. The robot interacts with the student just the way a human patient would, speaking and using real human responses like that to the command to “open wide”, and flinching and grunting if the student causes “pain” or accidentally touches her inappropriately. Simroid can blink, move her mouth, neck and left hand, and even has a gag reflex.

The technology is extraordinary but the realism takes it to another level. The elasticity and texture of the robot’s skin, and the detail in the facial and hand features make Simroid uncannily life-like. Morita even promotes the use of make-up on the robot to add even more realism to the doctor/patient scenario. Sensors in and around the mouth can detect and assess the actions of the student, triggering natural patient responses. The developers’ next step is to have sensors in the teeth to accurately replicate sensitivity in this crucial area. Simroid is programmed to speak English or Japanese, and other languages are also in the offing.

Simroid is designed to improve student/patient communication by focusing on chairside manner, based on the student’s awareness of and responses to the physical and emotional sensitivity of the patient. Two cameras record the student diagnosing problems and interacting with the robot. The recordings can be analysed to provide immediate feedback to the student, or be used over time to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Simroid can also be set to simulate different treatment situations and patient types. Henry Schein Halas says Simroid will primarily be offered in Australia to dental schools.