Diagnostic Sciences, Faculty and Staff, Research

UNC Researchers, Xintek, Inc. Investigating New 3-D Intraoral Imaging System

In an attempt to make 2-D intraoral imaging a thing of the past, UNC researchers in collaboration with Xintek, Inc. are working to develop a clinically viable 3-D intraoral imaging system. This development could change the way dental radiographs are taken in the future.

“This work is important in dentistry because, for the first time, we may have a device that can actually improve the detection of dentoalveolar disease without increasing the dose to the patient,” explained Dr. Enrique Platin, clinical professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences and one of the lead researchers on the project.

The experimental technology is based on dental tomosynthesis and a UNC-invented novel method of x-ray generation. Dental tomosynthesis, a proven imaging technology, uses a limited number of radiographs taken from different angles to produce a series of images that allows the dentist to visualize the patient layer by layer.

“The innovation of the current technology lies in the new x-ray generator developed at UNC, which is based on carbon nanotube technology,” said Dr. André Mol, clinical associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences, also a lead researcher on the project. “This generator resembles a regular x-ray source, but instead of having one focal spot, it has multiple focal spots that can be fired in sequence to rapidly obtain images at different angles without the need to move the source. Development of advanced reconstruction algorithms has resulted in high quality image slices of dentoalveolar hard tissues.”

The result is that dental professionals can actually move through the structure, revealing hidden anatomical details.

Preliminary results show the new technology is capable of delivering rapid, low-dose, high resolution 3-D images. Initial evaluation indicates improved detection rates of proximal caries. Further studies are planned to assess the diagnostic efficacy of the system for root fractures, periodontal lesions and other dentoalveolar diseases. If successful, patients could benefit from this low cost, low dose technology through improved diagnostic outcomes.

The team consists of Drs. Otto Zhou, Jianping Lu, Jing Shan and Mr. Gongting Wu from the UNC Department of Physics and Astronomy; Mr. Pavel Chtcheprov from the Department of Biomedical Engineering; Drs. Platin, Mol and Lars Gaalaas of the UNC School of Dentistry Department of Diagnostic Sciences; and Dr. Andrew Tucker from Xintek Inc., a nanotechnology company located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health through a Small Business Innovation Research grant and with aid from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.