Dentistry and engineering researchers at West Virginia University are developing an ultrasound imaging device that would provide a non-invasive method for the diagnosis of periodontal disease.

Currently, the extent of the more severe form of periodontal disease, periodontitis – an infection of the tissues that support the teeth – is most accurately diagnosed through surgery. Richard Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research and professor of periodontics in the School of Dentistry, said research has indicated that, when left untreated, periodontal disease has been linked with adverse pregnancy outcomes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory problems and memory loss.

“This becomes especially significant in West Virginia, where rates of periodontitis are high along with other existing medical problems,” Dr. Crout said.

The problem with diagnosing the disease is that X-ray images routinely underestimate the amount of bone that has actually been lost. In addition, the radiation involved with X-ray imaging limits its usage in certain parts of the population, such as pregnant women. Periodontal surgery is the gold standard for diagnosing bone loss in moderate to severe periodontitis, but it is invasive, costly and time consuming.

“Ultrasound is routinely used in medicine to detect soft tissue defects in babies while still in the womb. We are currently using similar technology to detect bony defects in our laboratory, and the results are promising,” Peter Ngan, D.M.D, chair of the Department of Orthodontics in the School of Dentistry, said. “We know that the ultrasound can detect the hard tissue bony defects, we just have to make the device small enough to fit inside the mouth, where there are difficult angles and directions that have to be accounted for.”

Osama Mukdadi, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, said he hopes this innovative high resolution 3D ultrasound technology will advance the early diagnosis of periodontal disease before it has a chance to become more severe.

“The collaborations between the College of Engineering and the School of Dentistry are crucial to the success of introducing this new technology to treat patients with periodontal disease. We also hope our technology will be commercialized in the near future so this new device will be available to all clinicians,” Dr. Mukdadi said.

The two-year study is funded through a $393,575 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health. It was published online in the “Annals of Biomedical Engineering” in June. Due to the uniqueness of this technology, a patent application has been submitted and is currently pending.

For more information on the WVU School of Dentistry, see

For more information on the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, see


CONTACT: Angela Jones, HSC News Service