A dentist's tool could help with more than just oral health. A new study shows that dental scans can be used to track the growth of baby corals, which are a crucial predictor of how reefs will fare in the future.

Coral Reefs can be killed by heat stress. "Growth, reproduction and survival are the main things that we're looking at in terms of how healthy reefs are." Researchers can track how well baby corals branch by modeling them in 3-D. A reef won't recover if corals are grown too slowly.

Corals are difficult to model in 3-D due to their small size, so researchers can either dip them in wax or laboriously Stitch the measurements together from a commercial 3-D scanner. Quigley got an idea after his dentist used a wandlike device to create a 3-D tooth model. She thought the device should be able to measure the crevices of her teeth, too, since both teeth and coral are wet.


The scanning wand was found to be a cheap, easy and portable way to model baby corals in a study published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Scientists can use this tool to examine how coral species cope with stress.

Baby corals are critical for reef restoration. Joshua Madin, who was not involved in the study, said that the stages are difficult to measure accurately because of their high cost. The paper shows how mature technology can be applied to coral reef science.