Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Optical 3-D dental scanner wins VISION 2011 prize

Anyone who has been to the dentist can testify to the fact that undergoing root canal and crown therapy or being measured up for dentures isn't the most pleasant of experiences.

So I was particularly pleased to see that a dental scanner that promises to take the misery out of such a process has won this year's EUR5000 top prize at the VISION 2011 trade fair in Stuttgart.

Today, creating a model of the mouth is a fairly primitive procedure. Teeth are cast using an impression compound that is placed in the mouth of a patient and left to set. A resulting plaster model of the teeth is then prepared from the impression, after which the model is digitized using a stationary scanner. In a final step, dentures can be produced from the model with the aid of a CAD/CAM system.

But all of that is set to change thanks to the new system developed by the prize-winning engineers at the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), which will obviate the need for dentists to make dental impressions of the mouth, making the entire process less unpleasant and time-consuming.

The AIT system itself is based on a small 3-D scanner that is placed inside the mouth. The scanner illuminates the mouth with light after which two cameras capture images in real time. A data file -- which previously had to be created in the numerous stages described earlier -- is then created and transmitted to a PC over a USB port where the 3-D model can be visualized (see video).

According to the AIT researchers, a complete jaw arch can be measured in 3 to 5 minutes, and the accuracy of the completed model is to within 20 microns.

The stereo method for measuring the location of the teeth and the design of the scanner have been patented jointly by Klagenfurt am Worthersee-based startup a.tron3d and AIT. But those outside the dental industry can license the stereo software on an individual basis -- as PC software, as a program library for Windows and Linux, or as firmware for embedded devices such as smart cameras.

For its part, a.tron3d -- which holds the exclusive rights for the dental industry -- plans to release the scanner, called the Bluescan-I, by March 2012.

Sadly, that'll not be of too much use to me since I have already had much dental treatment on my teeth using the older, more primitive measurement method. But the good news is that it will certainly help new patients who will no longer have to experience almost choking when their mouths are full of that rather horrid tasting impression compound.

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