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Dental Intraoral Scanners Aid Coral Reef Research

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coral reef
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Found in oceans across the globe, coral has proven time-consuming for researchers to measure and study. As many coral reefs are in decline due to pollution, erosion and climate change, scientists are working to ensure the survival of these key ecosystems, and simple methods for measuring their size and health would support these efforts. According to research published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, the intraoral digital scanner — a mainstay of dental offices — provides a quick and easy means of surveying coral size and growth, reducing the time needed for such tasks by 99%.

Recognizing the similarities between coral and teeth — both being calcium-based and requiring measuring tools designed for wet surfaces — Kate Quigley, PhD, a senior research scientist at Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, developed a nondestructive protocol that uses intraoral scanners to rapidly scan coral. This discovery represents a significant improvement over previous labor-intensive surveying techniques. Reporting in the paper, “A Fast, Precise, In-Vivo Method for Micron-Level 3D Models of Corals Using Dental Scanners,” Quigley notes that it takes less than three minutes to scan and build a model of each individual coral, compared to more than four hours with previous approaches.

Reconstructing three-dimensional coral models provides insights into coral health and response to stressors, such as rising temperatures and acidification. “For the first time, scientists will be able to measure thousands of tiny corals fast, accurately, and without negative impacts,” she says. “This has the potential to expand large-scale monitoring of ocean health and support the upscaling of current efforts to restore coral reefs on a global basis.”

From Decisions in Dentistry. December 2022;8(12)8.

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