Can electronics and dentistry go together? (1)

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On 4-5 December 2013, Vilnius Innovation Forum Innovation Drift was taking place in Vilnius. Over 600 participants were discussing the significance of technological innovations for European economics.

In the exhibition of science and technology that was taking place during the forum, various Lithuanian universities, companies and individual scientists presented innovations and suggested how they can be applied. Among others, one of the most eye-catching display was the one presented by UAB Lumen. The specialty of the company is designing medical equipment that is worth presenting to our readers.

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Head of UAB Lumen Dr. Jonas Martynaitis in the exhibition of science and technology that took place during Vilnius Innovation Forum Innovation Drift.  Photo G.Zemlickas

Before starting our interview with the manager of UAB Lumen, doctor of technical sciences Jonas Martynaitis, it is necessary to say that for many years, he had been working in the Faculty of Electronics and Management of Kaunas University of Technology, was as docent. The area of his scientific and pedagogical works was electrical and electronics circuits. Upon retiring from this position, he was not even thinking about terminating the activity that is so characteristic to an engineer and a scholar, therefore he established a company UAB Lumen. In our interview, we will try to clarify to what extent embedded systems, or microcontrollers, as they are often called by engineers, are important for the dentistry equipment designed in the company.

Apex locator – what is it?

Doctor Jonas, how the modern electronics engineers, the ones often applying embedded systems in their work, can be helpful in the area that is so important for all of us – specialists of odontology¹

[1] For clarification purposes, it should be reminded that odontos in ancient Greek has the meaning of ‘tooth’. Thus, odontology is a science about teeth. Work of an odontologist involves repairing teeth, cleaning canals, filling, hygiene, preventative treatment, and other procedures. What does a term ‘stomatologist’ mean? Stoma in ancient Greek means ‘mouth’. Thus, stomatology is a science relating to mouth diseases and their treatment. Dental diseases can also be attributed to mouth diseases, therefore, stomatology is broader concept than odontology. Stomatologists are concerned with treating inflammatory diseases of the oral cavity, and also lips, tongue, mucous, salivary glands, and other diseases. – G. Z.’ comment.

Jonas Martynaitis. We can help odontologist to measure the depth of root canal for treating and filling up to the required level to retain the repaired tooth as long as it is possible. After opening a dental canal, it takes lots of efforts for both the odontologist and the patient to clean the root canal and prepare it for filling. For this purpose, we have designed a device called Apex Locator that significantly simplifies the procedure. This device also serves as a tool that facilitates communication between the doctor and the patient thanks to its feature of showing images on the screen thus simplifying explanations.

 

The best way is to demonstrate the process is showing it on a large-sized tooth model. We are able to see how a needle goes along root canal and gets to the ultimate position – apical constriction. Sometimes, in more complex case, doctor might fill the root canal not reaching this constriction, or having passed it. This would inevitably cause undesirable consequences: inflammatory consequences, swelling, and the whole process will have to be repeated, or, in the worst cases, the tooth will need to be removed.

So, if I understand you correctly, electronics can be very helpful here and help to locate the exact place of apical constriction. Am I right?

J. Martynaitis. With the help of our device, odontologist sees the place where he/she needs to stop (audio signal can also be implemented) and perform all the widening, cleaning and treatment tasks required before filling up the root canal. Probably all of us have more than one tooth repaired successfully applying this procedure, however, our device facilitates the entire procedure and saves lots of time both for the doctor and the patient. Our device functions as a complex of several devices. It has an autonomous part, computer control, and a screen installed. What is the most important, this device helps to precisely locate the place of apical constriction, and the doctor is able to perform all the necessary treatment and filling procedures, or put on a dental crown upon necessity, etc.

Nature’s work needs to be respected

Some dental doctors do not like long ceremonies and in more complex cases, suggest removing the tooth saying “Why do you need this diseased tooth when we have such good dental implants”. One screw and no more problems…

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International Exhibition of Odontology in Cologne where Jonas Martynaitis together with Slovak company Chirana Medical demonstrated their latest integrated product. Picture taken from Jonas Martynaitis’ personal archive.

J. Martynaitis. A screw can be a solution, however, a costly one. We can remove all the teeth and use implants instead but shouldn’t it be cleverer to help people retain what the Mother Nature gave them. I work with odontologists from Vilnius and Kaunas, and all of them aim to retain natural tooth for as long as possible. Me myself have several teeth that could have been removed by some dentists. Luckily, I had a chance to receive treatment and advices from qualified specialists in this area. We have already reached a level in dentistry where we can apply electronic diagnostic methods.

Before this conversation, you tried to bias me to talk about our works from the perspective of embedded systems. Very good. We, electronic engineers do not need to design these systems by ourselves – we use ready-made chips for various nodes, devices and units. Since we are designing devices, for separate functions we use not only embedded systems but also various nodes with operating embedded systems.

Cooperation with “Medica”

How did the process of developing apex locator looked like?

J. Martynaitis. Three stages of product design could be distinguished. Firstly, we have designed an autonomous locator. The second one was designed by connecting it to the computer. In this case, much more information can be obtained and stored (information about patient’s teeth, numbers, treatment procedures accomplished, and recommended treatment may be entered into the data base). I would distinguish a third stage of this process when we started working with other companies, for example, Šiauliai dental equipment production company Medica that has been operating since 1991. It has been constantly improving devices it produces. The company not only sells its products in Lithuania but also exports them to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Moldavia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the project funded by the European Union. The company Medica has participated in specialized international exhibitions, therefore, it has already been known in the markets of many various European countries as well as Scandinavian and Russian markets.

What are the projects your company Lumen work with in cooperation with Medica?

J. Martynaitis. The above mentioned device intended for facilitating work for odontologist is no longer standing as a separate device on a table but is installed in dental chairs designed by Medica. Doctor and patient are able to visually see everything what is being performed to diseased or problematic teeth.

I would like to add, that this dental chair is installed an entire complex of products that were produced by Lithuanian companies, e.g. screens were manufactured by Šiauliai company Tauras. We designed apex locator, and the very chair was designed and is being manufactured by Medica. They have designed an ergonomic structure, and attractive external design. And all of this was designed by Lithuanian engineers, constructors and manufacturers.

How to make consumers interested

Is Medica the only one partner of Lumen?

J. Martynaitis. We also work with Slovaks. Every two years in Cologne (Germany), the major exhibitions in odontology take place, and in 2013, we also had a chance to participate in one of them. And during this exhibition, our device received attention from Slovak company Chirana Medical which is one of the biggest manufacturers of dental chairs in Europe. It also manufactures other dental equipment. Our device has already been applied in dental chairs manufactured by Slovaks. Thus, our apex locator is no longer a simple device, but a component of a unit. Odontologists no longer need to look for a separate device since it is implemented in the dental equipment. It is an integrated system where a significant contribution of the company Lumen is made.

How to make Lithuanian odontologists and stomatologists interested in innovations designed by your company? Foreign companies often give very attractive offers, and it is an open secret that our doctors get offers from outstanding and world-famous manufacturers. In other words, do Lithuanian odontologist are willing to purchase and use this product designed by Lumen – apex locator?

J. Martynaitis. This is a good question. What can I say? We are not technical workers only. We closely cooperate with odontologists from Vilnius University and Lithuanian University of Health Sciences in Kaunas. After all, the systems we implement today were not designed based on purely own knowledge, but rather with respect to the needs and requests of odontologists. Thus we are not strangers to Lithuanian odontologists, they even call this device a Lithuanian apex locator. Of course, this cannot be called a beachhead. Similar apex locators are manufactured in Japan and other countries. We discovered a Lithuanian way of measurement, and it turned out to be efficient enough. The second device was designed after connecting it to a computer. And these were no longer laboratory prototypes. We have patented our device in Europe, and currently it is CE marked. Nearly half of Lithuanian dental doctors have purchased and use this device.

Interviewer Gediminas Zemlickas

To be continued