This Smart Robot Eases Dental Anxiety in Children

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report November 2021, Volume 55, Issue 11

ABC Kid’s Dental Group added Robin the Robot to its 3 practices and saw an immediate change in their young patients.

Children have many irrational fears—usually a laundry list of anything including monsters hiding under their bed, something spooky peeking out from behind their closet door, bath time, and the dark. Unfortunately for dental professionals, a fear of the dentist is often near the top of that list.

It is difficult to say whether this fear comes from past experiences, pop culture, an unfamiliar environment, picking up cues from their parents, or a combination of all these circumstances. But it is clear these fears—irrational or not—are something that pediatric dental practices face daily. Pediatric practices typically try to calm these anxieties with bright colors, games, toys, and even child-themed operatories.

However, ABC Kids Dental Group found another method: Robin the Robot, a research-based, child-friendly robot that is designed to reduce stress and anxiety among pediatric patients. The practice decided to try Robin at 1 of their locations in May 2020, when the height of the pandemic saw many toys, games, and magazines taken out of the office because of COVID-19, says Espy Sosa, office manager at ABC Kids Dental Group.

“Dr Nick [Ghazaryan] outsourced what we could bring in to support our children in the middle of this pandemic without violating any of the CDC guidelines or recommendations they had imposed,” Sosa says.

Robin was added to ABC’s Sun Valley, California, location in June 2020, and although the team wasn’t sure what to expect, Sosa says the robot’s impact was felt almost immediately. “We didn’t even know what to expect, what Robin looked like. Would it be a tablet? We had no idea. When Robin arrived, we were so stoked and excited to see how much joy Robin was bringing to our children in the practice,” she says.

Developed by Expper Technologies, Robin the Robot is said to be the world’s first emotionally intelligent robot for use in health care industries. Robin is a social robot that uses peer-to-peer interactions to create a meaningful connection with young dental patients to reduce stress. The engagement and interactions the team at ABC Kids Dental has seen have been wonderful, Sosa says.

“The interaction the children have when they’re in the practice—they forget they’re even here. It has been amazing,” she says.

Not only does Robin entertain children with games and videos on its screen, but also helps them understand what will happen during their dental appointment and the importance of oral health, Sosa says. The robot explains things such as dental x-rays and why they should brush their teeth.

The robot’s software algorithm allows it to perform real-time analysis of children’s emotions, enabling it to respond on the spot. This allows the unit to calm anxieties when it senses fear, distract children with interactive games, make them laugh with funny faces, and express empathy.

After a great response from children, patients, and their parents, ABC Kids Dental decided to add Robin to their other 2 practice locations in Granada Hills and Pacoima.

Robin’s artificial intelligence allows it to build an associative memory and intelligently react to children by replicating patterns formed upon previous experiences, such as children’s emotions and behavioral patterns. This allows the robot to welcome regular patients back to the practice.

“He’s established great relationships with patients. He remembers patients walking through the door, and he’ll say, ‘Hey, Johnny! Welcome back. I haven’t seen you in a while.’ So they actually look forward to coming back,” Sosa says. “Patients are coming back on their own and looking forward to meeting [and interacting] with Robin.”

Robin’s memory also allows it to pick up on visual cues. ABC Kids Dental celebrates kids’ birthdays with a piñata, and Robin can help celebrate those occasions, Sosa explains.

“We’re huge on birthdays. Our children get these big piñatas, and without even telling Robin, he knows that cue the minute it sees that piñata—he automatically sings ‘Happy Birthday,’ and he puts these fireworks on his screen. It’s a big deal,” Sosa says.