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Development of an optical scanner to allow earlier detection and better monitoring of tooth decay for children and adults than current diagnostic tools

School of Science and Engineering

About the Project

This project will develop a novel, non-invasive and non-contact diagnostic method for early detecting and monitoring tooth dental caries (tooth decay) based on Optical Coherence Tomography.

Tooth decay is a significant burden for healthcare services worldwide. It is the most common disease of mankind, costing an estimated US$357 billion globally (in 2015), and with associated productivity losses of US$22.5 billion. In Europe nearly 100% of adults experience tooth decay, treatment cost £36M in 2016/17, a 20% increase over the past four years in the UK alone.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria in dental plaque metabolising sugar and producing acids which dissolve tooth mineral. This creates microscopic pores, not detectable using the main diagnostic tools; visual examination and radiographs (x-rays). As the disease progresses from a subclinical level, subtle changes show on the tooth surface as white spots. Ultimately, cavitation of the tooth occurs. Recently developed treatments avoid injections, drilling and filling by remineralising the dental tissues, infiltrating resin into early lesions and sealing them before cavitation. However, the limiting factor is dentists’ ability to detect decay at the early pre-cavitated stage. These less invasive treatments reduce costs and avoiding unnecessary treatments.
Neither visual inspection nor x-rays are very sensitive for detecting these early stage changes or changes (progression) in the lesions which hampers assessment of treatment success. Radiography also delivers a dose of radiation.

A non-invasive, more sensitive and accurate imaging device that can penetrate the tooth surface without emitting harmful radiation would be ideal. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a non-invasive, real-time and in-vivo assessment tool that overcomes many weaknesses inherent in other diagnostic methods. It can be further extended to OCT-elastography (OCE) for soft tissue stiffness distribution. Current OCE systems do not work fast enough to capture elastography for tooth, cartilage and bone. The technology proposed for this studentship is based on the step-change extension of traditional OCT, combining high resolution (<10 micron) 2 and 3-dimensional tooth structure imaging with tooth elasticity measurement of different tooth layers. It is hypothesised that tooth signatures captured by OCT will reliably and accurately diagnose early tooth decay by providing dentists with high resolution tooth structural images with stiffness information closely correlated to the mineral content of tooth enamel. The work programme has the following objectives,
1. Develop a broad-band OCT system that integrates with functional modules to generate 2D and 3D depth resolved cross-sectional structural images and provide ultra-high sensitive SAW elastography for layered hard material in artificial and extracted human teeth.
2. Design a handheld OCT probe for the dental clinical environment.
3. Determine the signature of normal and decayed extracted human tooth (both structural image and elastography information) and assess the clinical potential of the system.

A specially designed OCT handheld probe, to diagnose dental caries earlier and more accurately will provide a tool currently missing from the dentist’ armamentarium and enable more preventive, less invasive treatments for patients that align with modern concepts of the process of tooth decay.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Chunhui Li ()
For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact

Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK in a relevant discipline.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 5.5 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s English language requirements are available online:


Step 1: Email Dr Chunhui Li () to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date).

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Li, formal applications can be made via UCAS Postgraduate. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Biomedical Engineering: Select the start date and study mode (full-time/part-time) agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the ‘provider questions’ section of the application form:
- Write the project title and ‘’ in the ‘if your application is in response to an advertisement’ box;
- Write the lead supervisor’s name and give brief details of your previous contact with them in the ‘previous contact with the University of Dundee’ box.

In the ‘personal statement’ section of the application form, outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses, via external sponsorship or self-funding.

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