The software development process at MerloBioEngineering
Chewing is a complex phenomenon that requires coordination of the mouth districts to grind different types of bolus.
Unilateral posterior crossbite is the most frequent malocclusion present in children, characterised by a non-congruence between the upper and lower dental arch and by an altered kinematics of the chewing cycles. The evaluation of this condition is fundamental to intervene promptly with orthodontic appliances to correct the defect before structural deformities of the jaw develop.
Andrea Merlo, owner of MerloBioEngineering, worked on the development of instruments for studying the kinematics of mastication and the activation of the main muscles involved. In particular, he developed a custom-made software capable of collecting and analysing the data recorded by other commercial tools, boosting the already existing protocols for healthy subjects and making them suitable for patients for the first time.
Following two studies that collected normative data on the masticatory cycle and identified the main parameters indicating the crossbite, the working team coordinated by Dr Maria Grazia Piancino of the Dental School of the University of Turin focused on assessing the changes induced by orthodontic intervention on young patients.
The first implementation
A first preliminary study was conducted in 2007 on a 5-year-old girl, early treated with a functional resin appliance called “Function Generating Bite”, a device designed by Professor Pietro Bracco, at the Dental School of the University of Turin. The analysis of chewing was carried out before and six months after the therapy and indicated a significant reduction in the number of reverse cycles, i.e. those cycles in which the mandible follows a reverse direction of closure.
A wider confirmation
A larger observational study was conducted in 2016 on 50 children with crossbite, compared with 20 healthy subjects. The participants’ chewing was recorded with the Myotronics K7-I and electrodes placed on the masseters; the data were analysed with Merlo’s software, using the percent difference between peaks EMG of the two masseters as a normalised index of coordination.
Following therapy, the reverse cycles decreased and the closing angle was normalised; the percent difference in electromyographic activity of the bilateral muscles was similar to the control group, indicating a favourable effect on the restoration of neuromuscular control.
The need for longer follow-ups
Finally, another study involving 47 patients and a control group was conducted in 2017 and demonstrated that, despite the significant improvements achieved following orthodontic correction, the kinematic parameters of chewing did not reach the normative values six months after surgery. It was hypothesised that more time was needed for the central pattern generators to reprogram themselves in a stable and definitive way at central level.
A decade of collaboration with the University of Turin’s Dental School has enabled engineer Merlo to broaden his knowledge of the various fields of application of bioengineering, laying the foundations for what would later become MerloBioEngineering. Thanks to the skills acquired, MBE is now able to develop data analysis software to meet any customer’s needs.
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