Augmented Reality Creates Virtual Models for Cosmetic Dentistry

Dentistry Today
Courtesy of Kapanu.


Courtesy of Kapanu.

Cosmetic dentistry often entails crowns and ceramic veneers, though these changes to the front teeth can affect the patient’s facial expressions. Technicians typically make a plaster cast of the patient’s dentition, use wax to insert any missing teeth, and create a real-life model that the patient can try out. Augmented reality software developed by Swiss company Kapanu, however, may eliminate this complicated and time-consuming procedure. 

“This software enables the patient to see, within seconds, the end result of the dental reconstruction,” said Kapanu CEO Roland Mörzinger.

The Kapanu Augmented Reality Engine takes a live video of the patient’s teeth and superimposes a virtual model of the new set of teeth on top of it. According to the company, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the virtual teeth and the genuine teeth, even when patients turn their head or speak. 

Patients also can try as many alternatives as they like, which isn’t feasible with wax models. With a few mouse clicks, clinicians can adjust the length, width, shape, and shade of the teeth. Patients then can see in real time how these choices alter their appearance and choose the variant they prefer. With this virtual fitting, communication between the dentist and patient also is more straightforward. 

“Expectations can be better managed from the start, so as to avoid any disappointments,” said Mörzinger. 

The software needs to access a database of 3-D models of naturally attractive sets of teeth to dynamically alter the virtual images. It then processes the data and displays different options that aren’t yet precisely matched to the patient’s own bite. The oral cavity must be 3-D scanned before this matching can happen, though Kapanu notes that many dental practices use 3-D scanning technology already anyway.

Once patients have chosen their dream set of teeth with the help of the software, the data is then fed into the technician’s 3-D modeling software. After processing, the data is sent to a machine that makes the replacement teeth. 

The project began at the Computer Graphics Lab at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university for science and technology, where Mörzinger was a software engineer. He and his team originally wanted to develop 3-D facial scanning technology after collaborating with Disney Research on medical applications. 

After conducting market research, the team decided to apply the concept of a virtual mirror to dentistry and develop new software. Mörzinger and his colleagues then founded Kapanu as a school spinoff, later finding financial support from Ivoclar Vivadent, which bought the company in June. Kapanu unveiled the system last March at IDS in Cologne. Despite positive feedback from the show’s attendees, the software is not available for end users yet.

“We have targeted the business-to-business segment, focusing mainly on developing the technology rather than marketing,” said Mörzinger. “Within the space of just 18 months, we have managed to become the leading provider of augmented reality in the dental industry.”

No other comparable systems are on the market yet, according to Kapanu. Also, the company notes that its acquisition by Ivoclar Vivadent will ensure that the technology will continue to be refined and made ready for market, though Kapanu will continue to operate as a separate company and develop new digital applications for the dental industry.

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