June 1, 2008 Biomedical engineers used advanced cone beam imaging technology take a series of two dimensional x-rays, which enabled them to create a detailed three dimensional picture of the patient’s mouth. Better images allow dentists to increase their understanding of the patient’s mouth and predict the outcome of procedures with improved accuracy.
Space-age technology, biomedical engineering and computer science -- they're all coming soon to your dentist's office near you. It's revolutionary science that could help give you a healthier smile.
In the next eight-and-a-half seconds, a machine can take 435 X-rays of Samantha Kotey's jaw and teeth, creating full 3-D imaging with more detail and accuracy and less radiation than a traditional dental X-ray. Physicist, Jeff Sitterle, Ph.D., says it's just one way researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta are changing the science of dentistry.
"We're focusing on very new technologies and these technologies are actually things that have been utilized in other types of manufacturing and other industries, but they fit very nicely into dentistry," Dr. Sitterle, chief scientist at the Georgia Tech Research institute, told Ivanhoe.
Using cone beam imaging technology -- a type of CT scan -- dentists take a two-dimensional X-ray every one degree around the patient's jaw. As a result, dentists can develop treatment plans and actually predict the outcome of procedures before treatment. "This is one of the most dramatic changes I have seen in dentistry," Edward Schissel, D.D.S., a dentist at Key Dentistry, P.C. in Marietta, Ga., told Ivanhoe. "Cone beam technology allows us to now see things we could never see before we begin treatment on a patient."
Beyond diagnosis, researchers are developing ways to use the 3-D imaging for fabrication of bridges and other restorations that used to be made by hand. Even the materials are revolutionary. Researchers have discovered that the same high strength ceramic used for the tiles on the space shuttle can work better than metal in permanent dental crowns.
"Zirconium is used for a lot of things in high temperature, high strength type processes, so including the space shuttle tiles and in other manufacturing in automobiles and various things where you're looking for lightweight, but very, very high strength." Dr. Sitterle explains.
From stronger materials to more precise diagnosis and treatment, researchers say patients like Kotey will see the benefits. Right now, 80 percent of the problems associated with crowns and bridges are linked to inaccurate impressions. Researchers say this new technology will go a long way toward improving that and helping those prostheses last longer.
ANATOMY OF A TOOTH: We think of teeth as being the part visible above the gum, but this is only the tip, or crown, of a tooth. There is also a neck that lies at the gum line, and a root, located below the gum. The crown of each tooth has an enamel coating to protect the underlying dentine. Enamel is even harder than bone, thanks to rows of tightly packed calcium and phosphorus crystals. The underlying dentine is slightly softer, and contains tiny tubules that connect with the central nerve of the tooth within the pulp. The pulp forms the central chamber of the tooth, and is made of soft tissue containing blood vessels that carry nutrients to the tooth. It also contains nerves so teeth can sense hot and cold, as well as lymph vessels to carry white blood cells to fight bacteria.
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Dental crowns, also referred to as "dental caps" or "tooth caps," are dental restorations that cover over and encase the tooth on which they are cemented. Crowns can be made out of porcelain, metal, or a combination of both. A dentist might recommend placing a dental crown to restore a tooth to its original shape; to strengthen a tooth; or to improve the cosmetic appearance of a tooth. The fundamental difference between porcelain veneers and dental crowns is the amount of a tooth's surface each respective type of dental restoration covers over. Dental crowns typically encase an entire tooth whereas porcelain veneers only cover over the front side of a tooth.
The American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and the Materials Research Society contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.