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Publication numberWO2016009294 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberPCT/IB2015/054949
Publication date21 Jan 2016
Filing date1 Jul 2015
Priority date17 Jul 2014
Also published asCN106572896A, EP3169269A1, US9693839, US20160015489, US20170252132
Publication numberPCT/2015/54949, PCT/IB/15/054949, PCT/IB/15/54949, PCT/IB/2015/054949, PCT/IB/2015/54949, PCT/IB15/054949, PCT/IB15/54949, PCT/IB15054949, PCT/IB1554949, PCT/IB2015/054949, PCT/IB2015/54949, PCT/IB2015054949, PCT/IB201554949, WO 2016/009294 A1, WO 2016009294 A1, WO 2016009294A1, WO-A1-2016009294, WO2016/009294A1, WO2016009294 A1, WO2016009294A1
InventorsYossef Atiya, Tal VERKER
ApplicantAlign Technology, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: Patentscope, Espacenet
Probe head and apparatus for intraoral confocal imaging
WO 2016009294 A1
Abstract
A probe head for dental confocal imaging, comprises a light-guiding part for guiding a light beam towards a teeth portion, the light-guiding part having an entrance face through which the light beam enters the light-guiding part and an exit face through which the light beam exits the light-guiding part, wherein the light-guiding part is configured, in case of a linearly polarized light beam having two polarization components being perpendicular to each other, to change polarization of the linearly polarized light beam on its path through the light-guiding part in such a way that one of the two polarization components, compared to the other of the two polarization components, is retarded by an odd multiple of a quarter of a wavelength of the light beam along the path from the entrance face to the exit face.
Claims  (OCR text may contain errors)
CLAIMS WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. A probe head for dental confocal imaging, the probe head comprising:
a light-guiding part to guide a light beam having a wavelength towards a teeth portion, the light-guiding part having an entrance face to receive light and an exit face to transmit light, an optical path extending from the entrance face and the exit face, wherein the light-guiding part is configured to retard a first polarization component relative to a second polarization component by an odd multiple of a quarter of the wavelength along the optical path extending from the entrance face to the exit face.
2. The probe head according to claim 1 , wherein the light-guiding part comprises a transparent body and wherein the light beam comprises a linearly polarized light beam comprising the first polarization component and the second polarization component, wherein the first polarization component and the second polarization component are perpendicular to each other.
3. The probe head according to claim 1, wherein the light-guiding part comprises a one- piece body.
4. The probe head according to claim 1 , wherein the light-guiding part comprises sidewalls and one or more of the sidewalls comprises a retardance coating such that a total retardance of the first polarization component with respect to the second polarization component along the optical path extending from the entrance face to the exit face comprises the odd multiple of a quarter of the wavelength.
5. The probe head according to claim 1 , wherein the light-guiding part is bounded by sidewalls and the light-guiding part is configured such that the light beam entering through the entrance face is reflected from at least one of the sidewalls of the light-guiding part by way of total internal reflection.
6. The probe head according to claim 1 , wherein the light-guiding part comprises an upper sidewall, a lower sidewall and an end sidewall, the upper sidewall adjoining the entrance face, the upper side wall arranged at an acute angle with respect to the entrance face, the lower sidewall adjoining the entrance face, the lower sidewall arranged at an obtuse angle with respect to the entrance face, the end sidewall adjoining the upper sidewall and/or the lower sidewall, the end sidewall arranged at an acute angle with respect to the entrance face and/or the exit face.
7. The probe head according to claim 6, wherein the end sidewall comprises a mirror.
8. The probe head according to claim 6, wherein an angle extending between the entrance face and the lower sidewall is within a range between 90 and 125.
9. An apparatus for dental confocal imaging, the apparatus comprising:
an illumination module for generating an array of light beams;
an optics system for confocal focusing of the array of light beams; and a probe head according to claim 1 ,
wherein the illumination module, the optics system and the probe head are arranged such that the array of light beams from the illumination module passes through the optics system, enters the light-guiding part via the entrance face and exits the light-guiding part via the exit face.
10. The apparatus according to claim 9, wherein the light-guiding part is bounded by sidewalls and the light-guiding part is arranged such that each light beam entering the light-guiding part through the entrance face is reflected at the sidewalls an odd number of times, the odd number of time comprising three times or five times, before exiting through the exit face.
11. The apparatus according to claim 9, wherein the illumination module comprises a single light emitter.
12. The apparatus according to claim 9, wherein the illumination module comprises a plurality of light emitters.
13. The apparatus according to claim 9, further comprising a polarizer for linearly polarizing a light beam, wherein the polarizer is arranged along the optical path between the illumination module and the probe head and between the illumination module and the optics system.
14. The apparatus according to claim 9, further comprising a beam splitter being arranged along the optical path between the illumination module and the optics system such that the array of light beams from the illumination module passes through the beam splitter and a returning array of light beams from the optics module is reflected.
15. The apparatus according to claim 9, further comprising a detector for detecting an array of light beams.
16. The apparatus according to claim 9, further comprising a focus shifting mechanism for shifting the focal plane of the optics system.
17. The apparatus according to claim 16, wherein the focus shifting mechanism is configured to shift one or more lenses of the optics system along the optical axis.
18. The apparatus according to claim 1, wherein angles of surfaces of the light guiding part are arranged to provide a first portion of the retardance and one or more coatings on one or more of the surfaces comprises a plurality of layers configured to provide a second portion of the retardance, wherein the first portion combined with the second portion provides a combined total relative retardance between the entrance face and the exit face comprising the odd integer multiple of the quarter of the wavelength.
19. The apparatus according to claim 18, wherein the first component comprises a first non-integer multiple of a quarter of the wavelength and the second component comprises a second non-integer multiple of the quarter of the wavelength and wherein one or more coatings comprises a plurality of layers comprising a low index layer, a high index layer and a medium index layer.
Description  (OCR text may contain errors)

PROBE HEAD AND APPARATUS FOR INTRAORAL CONFOCAL IMAGING

FIELD

[0001] The present disclosure is directed to a probe head for intraoral confocal imaging and an apparatus comprising the same, particularly useful for surveying of teeth.

BACKGROUND

[0002] In the fields of orthodontics and prosthodontics, different methods are known to determine a current teeth topology in a patient's mouth. One of the methods involves taking an impression of a patient's dentition. Using this impression, a plaster cast is made, representing a (positive) physical teeth model. This physical teeth model may then be used for a subsequent treatment plan.

[0003] If CAD (computer-aided design) and/or CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) techniques are to be employed, a digital dataset corresponding to the teeth may be obtained by scanning. For example, the (positive) physical teeth model in form of the plaster cast or a (negative) physical teeth model in form of the impression may be scanned or imaged using x-rays, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or laser scanning apparatuses. With the thus obtained image data, a computer model of the teeth or a part thereof may be established. However, such methods and apparatus can be somewhat time consuming and more expensive than would be ideal.

[0004] As an alternative, teeth in a patient's mouth may be imaged directly. For this purpose, different imaging apparatuses are known.

[0005] The prior apparatus for non-contact imaging with a probe having a sensing face have been less than ideal in at least some respects. The prior probe devices can be somewhat larger than would be ideal, and may have a large intraoral front tip which can make the prior devices somewhat cumbersome to use in at least some instances. Although an array of incident light beams passing through focusing optics can be used, the larger than ideal probe heads of such devices can provide less than ideal measurements of the oral cavity of a patient. Also, the prior devices that rely on beams to generate illuminated spots on the structure and the intensity of returning light rays propagating along an optical path can be somewhat cumbersome to use and maintain and can be somewhat more costly to manufacture than would be ideal.

[0006] Although quarter wave plates (QWPs) have been used with prior devices, the prior QWPs can provide less than ideal results in at least some instances. For example, disposable QWPs can have less than ideal quality and can be less available than would be ideal. Although fixed QWPs have been proposed, the alignment and reliability of fixed QWPs can be less than ideal. Also, the use of QWPs can be associated with less than ideal numerical apertures and accuracy, and may be less than ideally suited for combination with telecentric measurement systems. Also, the use of QWPs can provide an additional optical component that can be related to less than ideal control of contamination, for example.

[0007] Although three dimensional (3D) data acquisition using triangulation has been proposed, such devices can be less compact than would be ideal and can be somewhat difficult to place in the mouth of the patient. Also, such devices can require alignment and can be less accurate and reliable than would be ideal in at least some instances.

[0008] In light of the above, improved methods and apparatus for measuring surfaces such as the intraoral cavity are needed. Ideally such methods and apparatus will overcome at least some of the deficiencies of the prior methods and apparatus and be more accurate, reliable, compact, easier to use with the patient's mouth and less costly than the prior devices.

SUMMARY

[0009] In accordance with embodiments, a probe head for dental focal imaging is provided, comprising a light-guiding part for guiding a light beam towards a teeth portion, the light-guiding part having an entrance face through which the light beam enters the light-guiding part and an exit face through which the light beam exits the light-guiding part. The light-guiding part may be configured to provide a relative retardance of polarization components comprising an odd multiple of a quarter of a wavelength of the light beam along the path from the entrance face to the exit face. In many embodiments, a linearly polarized light beam having two polarization components being perpendicular to each other provides a change in polarization of the linearly polarized light beam on its path through the light-guiding part in such a way that one of the two polarization components, as compared to the other of the two polarization components, is retarded by an odd multiple of a quarter of a wavelength of the light beam along the path from the entrance face to the exit face. The reflecting surfaces of the probe head can be arranged and/or configured in one or more of many ways so as to provide the relative retardance of the odd integer multiple of the quarter of the wavelength. In many embodiments, the angles of the reflecting surfaces are arranged to provide the retardance. Alternatively or in combination, coatings can be provided on one or more surfaces to provide the retardance. In many embodiments, the angles of the surfaces provide a first portion of the retardance and the one or more coatings provide a second portion of the retardance, and the first portion combined with the second portion provides a combined total relative retardance between the entrance face and the exit face comprising the odd integer multiple of the quarter of the wavelength. In many embodiments, a reflective coating at the front end of the probe can provide the full 1/4 wave retardation, when complemented with the existing retardation induced by reflection at the other surfaces. The coating may comprise a plurality of layers comprising a low index layer, a high index layer and a medium index layer. In many embodiments the plurality of layers comprises a plurality of low index layers, a plurality of high index layers and a plurality of medium index layers. The retardance comprising an odd multiple of the quarter wavelength has the advantage of providing returning light that has been phase shifted by a half wavelength and a corresponding 90 degree rotation of linearly polarized light, which can be used with a polarizing beam splitter in order to increase energy efficiency of the measurement apparatus.

[0010] Other objects and features of the present invention will become apparent by a review of the specification, claims, and appended figures.

INCORPORATION BY REFERENCE

[0011] All publications, patents, and patent applications mentioned in this specification are herein incorporated by reference to the same extent as if each individual publication, patent, or patent application was specifically and individually indicated to be incorporated by reference.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] The novel features of the invention are set forth with particularity in the appended claims. A better understanding of the features and advantages of the present invention will be obtained by reference to the following detailed description that sets forth illustrative embodiments, in which the principles of the invention are utilized, and the accompanying drawings of which:

[0013] FIG. 1 shows a schematic view of a confocal imaging apparatus, in accordance with many embodiments;

[0014] FIG. 2 shows a top view of a schematically illustrated probe head, in accordance with many embodiments;

[0015] FIG. 3 shows a plan view of the entrance face of a schematically illustrated probe head, in accordance with many embodiments;

[0016] FIG. 4 shows a longitudinal cross-section through line A-A in FIG. 2, in accordance with many embodiments; and

[0017] FIG. 5 shows a longitudinal cross-section through a schematically illustrated probe head, in accordance with many embodiments. DETAILED DE SCRD7TION

[0018] The methods and apparatus disclosed herein can be combined in one or more of many ways and are well suited for combination with many devices related to surface topology such as the measurement of tissue surfaces such as surfaces of the oral cavity. The tissue surfaces may comprise one or more surfaces of teeth of the mouth, for example. The measured surfaces can be used by health care providers such as orthodontists and dentists.

[0019] As used herein and/or encompasses alternative elements and combinations of elements. For example, A and/or B encompasses A alone, B alone, and combinations of A and B.

[0020] As used herein lambda ("λ") indicates the wavelength of light of a light beam.

[0021] In many embodiments, a linearly polarized light beam (having two polarization components being perpendicular to each other) may undergo a change of polarization along its path from the entrance face of the light-guiding part to the exit face thereof. A QWP may change the polarization as well. Providing the polarization change with the probe itself can be beneficial for additional reasons such as decreased size, fewer system elements, and decreased cost. A retardance by an odd integer multiple of a quarter of the wavelength may correspond to a phase shift of an odd multiple of π/2, for example.

[0022] The light-guiding part may be configured such that a linear polarization of a light beam at the entrance face is changed to one or more of elliptical polarization or circular polarization at the exit face.

[0023] In many embodiments, the probe provides the phase retardance comprising an odd multiple of quarter wavelength and can be used in a manner similar to a quarter wave plate by using linearly polarized light in the system. The phase of linear polarization which goes through the probe is retarded by a quarter of wavelength and thus circularly polarized. When reflected back from the object such as a tooth and going through the probe in the opposite direction, an additional quarter wavelength retardation occurs and the polarization is linear and 90 degrees to the original polarization. By using a polarization beam splitter, the optical power transmission efficiency of the system can be increased substantially, for example maximized.

[0024] The light beam may comprise a polychromatic light beam (i.e. having a range of

wavelengths) or a monochromatic light beam (i.e. having a single wavelength, e.g. as obtained from a laser source).

[0025] The probe head may be configured for intraoral confocal imaging, such as a probe head for intraoral confocal imaging, and/or for confocal imaging of positive and/or negative physical teeth models. [0026] The light-guiding part may comprise a transparent body and/or a one-piece body. For example, the transparent body may comprise glass or plastics and may comprise a solid body. In many embodiments the transparent body comprises a stiff body, such as a rigid body.

[0027] The light-guiding part may be bounded by sidewalls, and one or more of the sidewalls may comprise a retardance coating such that the total retardance of the one of the two polarization components, with respect to the other polarization component, along the path from the entrance face to the exit face is an odd multiple of a quarter of the wavelength. In this way, a phase shift of the one polarization component by an odd multiple of π/2 can be achieved, so as to provide the advantages as described herein. Each of the sidewalls and/or the exit face and/or the entrance face may be planar, for example.

[0028] The light-guiding part may be bounded by sidewalls and the light-guiding part may be configured and/or arranged such that the light beam entering through the entrance face is reflected from at least one of the sidewalls of the light-guiding part by way of total internal reflection. The above-mentioned retardance coating may lead to a change or modification of the total internal reflection conditions, particularly as regards a phase shift of one of the two polarization components. In many embodiments, retardance coating as described herein may be provided at a sidewall or at part of a sidewall where the light beam is reflected by way of total internal reflection. In many embodiments, the light-guiding part comprises angles and an index of refraction arranged to provide total internal reflection.

[0029] Alternatively or additionally to total internal reflection, one or more reflections may be provided with a mirror coating of a sidewall or of part of a sidewall. The retardance coating may provide a change or modification of the mirror reflection conditions, for example with respect to a phase shift of one of the two polarization components. In many embodiments, the retardance coating as described herein may be provided at a sidewall or at part of a sidewall where the light beam is reflected by way of mirror reflection, for example.

[0030] The light-guiding part may comprise an upper sidewall arranged at an acute angle with respect to the entrance face, a lower sidewall arranged at an obtuse angle with respect to the entrance face, and an end sidewall arranged at an acute angle with respect to the entrance face and/or the exit face. The upper sidewall may adjoin the entrance face, the lower sidewall may adjoin the entrance face and/or the end sidewall may join the upper sidewall and/or the lower sidewall, for example. The angle between the end sidewall and the upper sidewall may be an obtuse angle. The lower sidewall may comprise the exit face. [0031] The end sidewall may comprise a mirror. For example, the end sidewall may comprise a mirror coating. In such embodiments, the light-guiding part may be arranged and/or configured such that a light beam entering through the entrance face is reflected at all sidewalls except for the end sidewall by way of total internal reflection. The angle between the entrance face and the lower sidewall may lie between 90 and 125, in particular, between 90 and 115. The angle between the exit face or the lower sidewall and the end sidewall may lie between 20 and 45, in particular, between 25 and 35. The angle between the entrance face and the upper sidewall may lie between 90 and 65, in particular, between 90 and 80

[0032] The embodiments also provide an apparatus for dental confocal imaging, comprising an illumination module for generating an array of light beams, an optics system for confocal focusing of the array of light beams and a probe head as described above, wherein the illumination module, the optics system and the probe head are arranged such that the array of light beams from the illumination module passes through the optics system, enters the light-guiding part by the entrance face and exists the light-guiding part by the exit face. In particular, the light-guiding part may be arranged such that the above-described change of the polarization of the linearly polarized light beam is achieved.

[0033] The apparatus may be configured for intraoral confocal imaging, and may comprise an apparatus for intraoral confocal imaging, and/or for confocal imaging of positive and/or negative physical teeth models, for example. The apparatus may comprise a scanning apparatus. The focusing optics of the apparatus may comprise telecentric or non-telecentric optics, for example.

[0034] The light-guiding part may be arranged such that the array of light beams enters the light- guiding part at an angle of about 90 with respect to the entrance face. In many embodiments, the light guiding part may be arranged such that the array of light beams enters via the entrance face at an angle of 90 5, for example 90 3.

[0035] The light-guiding part may be bounded by sidewalls and the light-guiding part may be arranged and/or configured such that each light beam entering the light-guiding part through the entrance face is reflected at the sidewalls an odd number of times before exiting through the exit face. In many embodiments, each light beam may be reflected at the sidewalls three or five times before exiting through the exit face, for example.

[0036] The illumination module may comprise a single light emitter or a plurality of light emitters, for example. The one or more light emitters may emit coherent light. In many embodiments, the light emitter may comprise a single laser emitter or a plurality of laser emitters. The light emitter may comprise the single light emitter, and the illumination module may further comprise a beam expander element and/or a beam splitter element for splitting a light beam from the light emitter into a plurality of light beams and/or an array of light beams, for example. The beam splitter element may comprise diffractive optics, or refractive optics, and combinations thereof, for example. For example, the beam splitter element may comprise a grating or a microlens array.

[0037] Any of the apparatuses and methods as described herein may comprise a polarizer for linearly polarizing a light beam, in which polarizer is arranged along the optical path between the illumination module and the probe head. In many embodiments, the polarizer is arranged between the illumination module and the optics system. The polarizer may be configured and/or arranged such that the polarization plane of a light beam passing through the entrance face of the light-guiding part is not parallel to the symmetry plane of the light-guiding part (i.e., the polarization plane is tilted with respect to the symmetry plane). The symmetry plane may be arranged in parallel to the plane in which the optical path is located.

[0038] Any of the methods and apparatuses as described herein may comprise a beam splitter arranged along the optical path between the illumination module and the optics system such that the array of light beams from the illumination module passes through the beam splitter, and such that an array of returning light beams from the optics module is reflected, in particular, towards a detector. The beam splitter may comprise a semi-transparent mirror, for example. The light beams coming from the illumination module passing through the optics system may comprise incident light beams, for example incident light beams entering the light-guiding part through the entrance face. The light beams following the optical path in an opposite direction through the optics system may comprise returning light beams, for example returning light beams entering the light-guiding part through the exit face. The array of returning light beams may comprise an array of light beams reflected by an object to be imaged (e.g. a teeth portion or segment).

[0039] The methods and apparatuses as described herein may comprise a detector for detecting an array of light beams. The detector may be arranged and/or configured to detect an array of returning light beams. The detector may comprise an array of detector elements. The detector may comprise a CCD, a camera, or a photodiode array, for example. The detector may comprise a

spectrophotometer, for example.

[0040] The apparatuses as described herein may comprise a focus-shifting mechanism for shifting the focal plane of the optics system. For example, the focus-shifting mechanism may be configured to shift one or more lenses of the optics system along the optical axis. In many embodiments, the focus shifting detector may comprise a translation mechanism for translating the one or more lenses of the optics system. [0041] The probe head as described herein may comprise a housing, in which the light-guiding part and/or the optics system are provided within the housing, for example. When a focus shifting mechanism is provided, the focus shifting mechanism may also be provided within the housing.

[0042] The probe head may comprise a part of a handheld device, for example. The optics system and/or the focus shifting mechanism may comprise part of the handheld device. In many embodiments, the handheld device is defined by a housing as described herein.

[0043] FIG. 1 schematically illustrates an example of an apparatus for dental confocal imaging of a teeth segment or teeth portion, in accordance with many embodiments. The teeth segment may comprise one tooth, a plurality of teeth, a tooth stump, and/or a portion or segment where one or more teeth are missing, for example. The apparatus may be used, for example, for intraoral imaging of teeth. Alternatively or additionally, imaging of a positive or negative teeth model may be performed employing this apparatus.

[0044] The illustrated apparatus comprises a light emitter 1 as a source of coherent light. As an example, the light emitter may be a laser source such as a semiconductor laser.

[0045] As indicated by the arrow shown, emitted light passes through a polarizer 2 such as a polarization filter to generate linearly polarized light.

[0046] The linearly polarized light passes through a beam expander 3, which may comprise a collimating lens so as to obtain a collimated light beam having a desired width or numerical aperture.

[0047] The beam expander 3 is followed by a beam splitter element 4, for splitting the beam into an array of light beams. The beam splitter element 4 in the form of diffraction or refraction optics may comprise a grating or a microlens array, for example.

[0048] In the illustrated embodiments, the light emitter 1 comprises a single light source from which the array of light beams is generated via the beam expander and the beam splitter element. As an alternative, the light emitter 1 may already comprise a plurality of light sources being arranged in form of an array. In these embodiments, the array of light beams is generated directly at the light emitter 1 so that a beam expander and/or beam splitter may be avoided. As an example, the array of light sources may be provided in the form of an array of laser sources, such as semiconductor lasers.

[0049] In general, the polarizer 2 may alternatively be arranged between the beam expander 3 and the beam splitter element 4, or even after the beam splitter element 4. The array of light beams, represented here, for ease of illustration, by a single line, passes through a beam splitter 5 in form of a semi-transparent mirror and enters optics system 6. The beam splitter element 5 may comprise a polarizing beam splitter, for example. [0050] In many embodiments, the amount of polarization can be controlled so that the cumulative relative retardance of the components is 1/2 wavelength by the time the reflected beams leave the probe towards the beam splitter as described herein. The polarization components of the

illumination light beam may undergo a relative phase shift of a quarter wavelength along the optical path between the entrance and exit faces as described herein, and the polarization components of the return light beam may undergo a relative phase shift of an quarter wavelength between the exit face and the entrance face along the return path, in order to provide a cumulative relative retardance of 1/2 wavelength. The cumulative relative retardance of 1/2 wavelength of the polarization components of the returning light beam provides a 90 rotation of the linearly polarized light of the return light exiting the probe relative to the linearly polarized light entering the probe.

[0051] The optics system 6 comprises a confocal lens arrangement operating in a telecentric or non- telecentric mode. A telecentric confocal optics avoids distance-introduced magnification changes and maintains the same magnification of the image over a wide range of distances in the direction along the optical axis. Optionally and with embodiments comprising a telecentric optics, an additional relay optics may be provided to maintain a desired numerical aperture of the beams.

[0052] The light beams coming from the light emitter 1 and propagating towards the sample to be imaged (e.g., a teeth segment) are called incident light beams, whereas light beams being reflected at the sample and propagating along the optical path of the incident light beams, but in an opposite direction, are called returning light beams.

[0053] After the optics system 6, the incident array of light beams enters a probe head 7. In particular, the array of light beams is coupled into a light-guiding part of the probe head via or through the light-guiding part's entrance face. Within the light- guiding part, each beam is reflected several times before it is coupled out via or through an exit face onto an object to be imaged, such as a teeth segment 8. In this way, an incident array of light beams is emitted towards the teeth segment 8, thus, resulting in an array of light spots on the teeth surface.

[0054] As also illustrated by one of the arrows between a tooth and the probe head, reflected light reenters the probe head 7, particularly its light-guiding part, via the exit face. In this way, each reflected/returning light beam travels along the optical path in an opposite direction as travelled by the incident light beams. Therefore, the returning light beams are also reflected several times within the light-guiding part of probe head 7, and pass through optics system 6 in inverse direction. At the semi-transparent mirror 5, the returned light beams are reflected towards imaging optics 9, comprising one or more lenses, followed by a pinhole array 10. [0055] Then, the array of returning light beams impinges onto a detector 11, comprising an array of detector elements. For example, the detector 11 may be a CCD camera or a photodiode array. Each detector element or sensing element corresponds to a pinhole in the array 10.

[0056] The detector 11 is connected to a processing unit 12 where each light intensity measured in each of the detector elements is grabbed and analyzed.

[0057] The apparatus further comprises a control unit 13 being connected to the light emitter 1, as well as to a motor 14. Motor 14 is an example of a focus-shifting mechanism for shifting the focal plane of the optics system 6. In particular, motor 14 is coupled to the optics system 6 so as to shift or translate one or more lenses of the optics system along the optical axis. In this way, the focal plane location may be changed or shifted.

[0058] After receipt of a feedback signal that the location of the focal plane has changed (or that the one or more lenses have been shifted), control unit 13 triggers light emitter 1 to generate light pulses. Processing unit 12 will grab data representative of the light intensity as detected by detector 11 corresponding to the light pulse that was reflected at the teeth segment 8. This procedure will be repeated for a plurality of locations for the focal plane.

[0059] As outlined in detail in WO 00/08415, the entire disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference, the surface topology of the imaged object (e.g., the teeth segment) is determined by determining the focal plane location for which, for a particular pixel, the light intensity is maximal. In this way, a three-dimensional representation of the object, e.g., the teeth segment, may be obtained; it may be displayed and/or further processed.

[0060] The array of light beams may comprise light beams having different wavelengths. For this purpose, the light emitter 1 may comprise different light sources emitting light of different wavelengths. In embodiments with an array with beams of different wavelengths, the detector may comprise a spectrophotometer with color resolution, for example. Examples for spectrophotometers include a three chip CCD camera or the use of a Bayer mask over a monochrome CCD or other light sensor.

[0061] By using light components or light beams with different wavelengths, each being focused simultaneously on a different focal plane, the time for imaging may be reduced as different focal plane ranges can be simultaneously measured.

[0062] The probe head 7 may comprise a housing. For example, both the optics system 6 and the light-guiding part may be provided within such a housing. The housing may be configured as a handheld device so that the light- guiding part and/or optics system 6 and/or motor 14 are included in the handheld device. [0063] FIG. 2 schematically illustrates a top view of a probe head 7, in accordance with many embodiments. The probe head 7 has a light-guiding part with an entrance face 15, a schematic plan view of which is illustrated in FIG. 3. FIG. 4 schematically illustrates a cross-sectional view of the probe head through line A- A, i.e., parallel to the symmetry plane, which extends along the optical axis of the light-guiding part and is perpendicular to the light-guiding part's lower sidewall.

[0064] Light coming from the light emitter and the optics system enters the light-guiding part via the entrance face 15 at an angle of about 90, such as substantially normal to the entrance face 15. The incident light can be linearly polarized. In the embodiments illustrated schematically in FIG. 3, the polarization vector 20 has a non-zero angle with respect to the symmetry plane of the probe head and the light-guiding part, respectively. In many embodiments, the polarization vector 20 is tilted by an angle of about 45, for example. The cross in FIG. 3 shows a coordinate system, wherein the symmetry plane is parallel to the vertical axis.

[0065] As schematically illustrated in FIG .4, the light-guiding part is arranged and light is coupled into the light-guiding part in such a way that each light beam entering the light-guiding part via the entrance face 15 is reflected at the sidewalls. In the illustration of FIG. 4, only one beam is indicated by a single line, which is reflected three times before exiting the light-guiding part via the exit face 16. A person of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that a plurality of light beams can be transmitted and received along the light-guiding part in a manner similar to the beam shown in FIG. 4.

[0066] In many embodiments, a first reflection takes place at an upper sidewall 17, adjoining the entrance face 15, and being arranged at an acute angle with respect to the entrance face 15. The second reflection may occur at lower sidewall 18, also adjoining the entrance face 15 and being arranged at an obtuse angle with respect thereto. The last reflection may occur at the end sidewall 19, adjoining both the upper and the lower sidewalls. The exit face 16 can be part of the lower sidewall 18. End sidewall 19 may comprise a mirror, which may be obtained by a suitable coating of the corresponding surface of the light-guiding part, for example. The exit face 16 may correspond to a perpendicular projection of the end sidewall 19 onto the lower sidewall 18.

[0067] In many embodiments, the light-guiding part comprises a stiff, for example rigid, one-piece body. For example, the light guiding part may comprise a glass body or a body composed of a transparent resin. The first and second reflections at upper sidewall 17 and lower sidewall 18 may result from total internal reflection, for example. In many embodiments, the angle of incidence and index of refraction are arranged and configured such that the angle of incidence is above a critical angle such that a complete reflection takes place because of the difference in the refractive indices of the sidewall and the surrounding medium, which can be air or another medium. The total internal reflection may comprise one or more of attenuated total internal reflection, frustrated total internal reflection, or total internal reflection, for example.

[0068] The light-guiding part is configured in such a way that the polarization of the light beams entering the light-guiding part via the entrance face 15 is changed along the optical path through the light-guiding part. In the embodiments illustrated in FIG. 4, the light beam (which had a linear polarization upon entry via the entrance face 15) exiting at exit face 16 shows one or more of an elliptical polarization or a circular polarization, for example.

[0069] Based on the teachings provided herein, a person of ordinary skill in the art can configure the light-guiding part to provide the change of the polarization as described herein with a material of the light-guiding part and/or a retardance coating on one or more of the sidewalls of the light-guiding part where reflection takes place as described herein, for example with reference to FIG. 5.

[0070] In many embodiments, the polarization of a light beam or a light ray comprises two polarization components perpendicular to each other. In many embodiments, the polarization vector comprises two vector components being perpendicular to each other. The polarization can be split into a "p" component and an "s" component. The p component is the component parallel to the plane of incidence, wherein the plane of incidence is the plane that contains the propagation direction of a ray being incident on the surface and the reflected and possibly transmitted rays, for example. In many embodiments, the plane of incidence is parallel to the symmetry plane of the probe head and the light-guiding part, respectively.

[0071] The s component is the component perpendicular to the plane of incidence. The retardance coatings on the one or more sidewalls can be configured such that one of the two polarization components (compared to the other of the two polarization components) is retarded by an odd multiple of a quarter of the wavelength (or by an odd multiple of π/2 or 90) along the path from the entrance face to the exit face, for example.

[0072] FIG. 5 schematically illustrates a cross-sectional view of the probe head 7, wherein the cross-section plane is parallel to the symmetry plane of the probe head or light-guiding part, similarly to the embodiments of FIG. 4. As in the example of FIG. 4, the probe head 7 has a light- guiding part with an entrance face 15 and an exit face 16, as well as an upper sidewall 17, a lower sidewall 18, and an end sidewall 19.

[0073] Alternatively or in combination a transparent cover sheet 21 can be provided as shown in FIG. 5, in which the transparent coversheet is arranged at a distance from the exit face 16. This cover sheet 21, which may comprise a plate, may be exchangeable for hygienic reasons, and may also be provided in accordance with embodiments described herein such as with reference to FIG. 4, for example.

[0074] In the embodiments illustrated in FIG. 5, the light-guiding part of the probe head 7 can be longer than in the embodiments of FIG. 4, for example, resulting in five reflections of the light beams before exiting via the exit face 16. Any odd number of reflections can be provided in accordance with embodiments disclosed herein.

[0075] In many embodiments such as described herein with reference to FIG. 5, the light-guiding part is made of glass, which is obtained from Schott AG under the trade name N-BK7, for example. To achieve a desired change of polarization, the lower sidewall 18 can be coated with a retardance coating, for example, and the upper sidewall 17 can remain uncoated, for example.

[0076] In some embodiments, the coating comprises a plurality of alternating layers of the following materials: titanium oxide (T13O5, abbreviated as Ή", high index), silicon oxide (Si02, abbreviated as "L", low index), and tantalum oxide (Ta205, abbreviated as "M", medium index). The plurality of layers may comprise a low index layer, a high index layer and a medium index layer. The low index layer may comprise a plurality of non-adjacent low index layers; the high index layer may comprise a plurality of non-adjacent high index layers; and the medium index layer may comprise a plurality of non-adjacent medium index layers. These layers can be deposited in the following order on the glass: air-LHLHLMLM-glass, for example. The total thickness of the coating can be about 450 nm, for example.

[0077] In many embodiments, the end sidewall 19 comprises a mirror coating such as a metallic layer, for example a silver layer. The mirror on the front end can be coated with a suitable film as described herein to provide the full 1/4 wave retardation, when complemented with the existing retardation induced by TIR in the other surfaces, for example.

[0078] Table 1 shows the phase retardance between the p and s components for a specific angle of incidence (AOI) of a light ray with a wavelength of 680 nm. At the upper and lower sidewalls, total internal reflection takes place whereas the reflection at the end sidewall results from the mirror coating. Due to the above-described coating at the lower sidewall, the total reflection at the lower sidewall is affected in such a way that the phase retardance through the light-guiding part sums up to 450.

Table 1: Phase retardance as a function of AOI

Reflection/transmission wall Central ray AOI [deg] Phase retardance [deg]

Upper sidewall, second reflection 60.40 139.5

Lower sidewall, second reflection 58.40 91.1

End sidewall 29.20 0

Exit face 90.00 0

[0079] As can be seen, there is no phase retardance or change in the polarization when the beam passes through the entrance and through the exit face. Little or no phase retardance takes place upon reflection at the metallic mirror.

[0080] The phase retardance between the p and s components at the first four reflection points at the upper and lower sidewalls sums up to 450 or 5 π/2, i.e., an odd multiple of π/2 or of a quarter of the wavelength (λ/4). As a consequence, for a light beam being linearly polarized (wherein the polarization vector is tilted with respect to the symmetry plane of the probe head or the light-guiding part) upon entry of the light-guiding part through the entrance face 15, an elliptical polarization may be achieved upon exit through the exit face.

[0081] Other coatings may be used as well to obtain a desired phase retardance. Furthermore, the phase retardance at the different reflection points or regions may be set differently. For example, instead of using a metallic mirror coating, a dielectric mirror coating (e.g., comprising multiple dielectric layers) may be used, which can provide a non-zero phase retardance at the end sidewall.

[0082] As another example in accordance with embodiments described herein, by employing a suitable coating design, a coating can be deposited on both the upper and the lower sidewall. In many embodiments, the cumulative phase retardance of all reflections along the optical path within the light-guiding part sums up to an odd multiple of π/2 corresponding to an odd multiple of a quarter of the wavelength.

[0083] While preferred embodiments of the present invention have been shown and described herein, it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that such embodiments are provided by way of example only. Numerous variations, changes, and substitutions will now occur to those skilled in the art without departing from the invention. It should be understood that various alternatives to the embodiments of the invention described herein may be employed in practicing the invention. It is intended that the following claims define the scope of the invention and that methods and structures within the scope of these claims and their equivalents be covered thereby.

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Classifications
International ClassificationG01B11/24, A61C9/00
Cooperative ClassificationA61C9/0066, G01B11/24, G02B6/32, A61B5/0068, A61C9/0053, G02B6/2726, A61B1/24
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