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    MARCH 2, 2006
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Professor’s 3-D imaging system seen as big aid to dental surgery

dentistry aid
Image courtesy Orhan Tuncay
School of Dentistry professor Orhan Tuncay has patented a system to animate a three-dimensional virtual image of a patient’s craniofacial structures.

Hollywood animation techniques behind popular movies like Star Wars and Toy Story may soon be playing at an orthodontist’s office near you.

A system patented by School of Dentistry professor Orhan Tuncay uses software to animate a three-dimensional virtual image of a patient’s craniofacial structures. The resulting virtual model can be manipulated to reflect changes in teeth, bones and skin from anticipated surgical procedures, all viewed in 3-D rotation.

“The two-dimensional, static photographs or X-ray films used in dentistry for years are now obsolete,” Tuncay said.

To create a virtual image, Tuncay collects data on a subject’s facial, dental and skeletal features using laser scanning, 3-D digital photography and, most recently, cone beam computed tomography (CT), a scan that provides a distortion-free, three-dimensional skeletal image.

Once a patient’s three-dimensional photographed features are aligned against the skeletal scan, the image is plugged into 3D Studio MAX, animation software used in many popular movies and video games.

With a click of the mouse, practitioners are able to maneuver the virtual features to show the expected results of prospective orthodontic procedures. Virtual models can smile to reveal original or improved teeth, as well as chew on cue. Subtle changes, such as the corollary effects of a tooth extraction on bone structure, skin or facial features can be easily tracked online before surgery starts.

“The moving 3-D model provides advantages for both diagnosis and treatment, including better visualization and faster treatment time,” Tuncay said.

He expects animated craniofacial imagery to also prove useful in plastic and reconstructive surgery and as a hands-on teaching tool.

While the finished result of Tuncay’s work appears deceptively simple, he and his colleagues developed the process of collecting and combining data and images over several years, working by trial and error, and keeping alert to the newest laser, digital and software technology.

Tuncay sees the final product as important for both doctors and patients.

“Patients get a more realistic sense about what to expect from treatment,” he noted. “It’s the difference between having a fantasy based on a fuzzy mental image and a precise picture.”

- By Ilene Raymond Rush