George K. Stookey, professor of preventive dentistry at Indiana University, and a team of international research scientists have developed a method of identifying dental anomalies using a quantitative light fluorescence technique.
By the time a dentist detects a developing cavity with clinical exam and x-ray it may have already eaten half way through the enamel, but Stookey’s innovation may allow dentists to detect lesions far earlier than x-rays and monitor changes in affected teeth.
The technique uses a light wand to focus a blue visible-light laser beam on a suspect tooth. Diseased teeth are said to lose calcium and phosphate and this alters the way they reflect light.
Reflected light is captured by a camera attached to the light wand and uploaded to a nearby computer.
The computer records the image and analyses the tooth to determine if there is any sign of tooth decay, which can be monitored to see how far it has progressed.
If patient is at risk, the dentist can arrange for them to visit again at a later date. The light wand is applied during the return visit and the captured image is superimposed over the one obtained earlier so that the dentist can establish whether the tooth has worsened or stabilised.
‘For the patient, this means that her dentist may detect these active caries lesions very early and in many cases, stop or reverse the process, ‘ said Stookey.
This process is also said to detect very early problems developing around existing dental restorations, such as fillings. It is hoped that this will assist dentists in reversing the disease process around the restoration, so the filling doesn’t have to be replaced.
‘This is very important for the dental patient because you can replace restorations only so many times. If a cavity develops around the previous restoration, then the next restoration has to be even bigger. Sooner or later you’ve destroyed most of the tooth structure, which means the patient then may need a crown.’
Stookey and research team hope to have this instrument in the hands of dentists and into your mouth by 2002.