Planmeca, a dental equipment manufacturer based in Herttoniemi, Helsinki, received an unexpected call from Professor Jukka Jernvall from the University of Helsinki in summer 2015. Typical clients and partners of the company included dental clinics and hospitals around the world, not researchers of developmental biology. But now a famous professor of evolutionary and developmental biology had contacted them.
Software developed to suit seal teeth
Together with his research team, Jernvall was studying the history and dental development of the ringed seal. However, the available imaging tools were slow, and their accuracy left much to be desired. While seeking better technologies for dental imaging, Jernvall decided to ask the Finnish Planmeca for suitable equipment.
The call marked the beginning of fruitful research cooperation, which led Jernvall to start using the Planmeca PlanScan intraoral scanner in his work. Together, Planmeca’s experts and University researchers worked to develop the scanner software, Planmeca Romexis, to suit the teeth of the ringed seal in particular.
Interest in small scanners
At the moment, many Finnish palaeontologists use Planmeca’s 3D imaging equipment and software in their work, and international interest among palaeontologists is increasing. The tool, intended for imaging inside the mouth, looks like an electric toothbrush and can be used to record an entire row of teeth in less than a minute.
“The shape and structure of the teeth are recorded on the computer as a digital copy, which can easily be transferred into an open resource, available to all researchers,” explains Sanna Tolmunen from Planmeca’s communications.
The Planmeca scanner has been used in palaeontological research on the teeth of pandas, ancient cave bears, polar bears, mice and pigs. Researchers can easily transport the small instrument from one collection and museum to another. Thanks to its speed, small size and agile software, the scanner has even been used in Kenya’s Turkana Basin, where anthropologists are studying humanity’s early history.