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Dentistry Today: Quantum Detection of Tooth Decay

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Quantum Detection of Tooth Decay

A new laser device designed to detect the earliest stages of tooth decay could help dentists stop cavities in their tracks.

A newly developed laser device that uses thermal radiation and light waves to detect tiny, subsurface lesions in teeth could potentially unseat x-rays as the diagnostic standard in dental care.Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Advanced Diffusion Wave Studies say that the technology can spot lesions as small as 50 microns in between teeth, one of the most difficult spaces to spot cavities, and up to 5 millimeters below the surface of a tooth. This is well outside the boundaries of x-ray detection without exposing the patient to radiation. The researchers built a clinical prototype of the device this month and plan to begin clinical tests next year.

Detecting the earliest signs of decay could bring big changes to dentistry. “You need to lose about 30 percent of the mineral before you begin to see it on an x-ray; that’s why these new technologies are so exciting,” says Christopher Fox, executive director of the International Association for Dental Research, based in Alexandria, Virginia, and a 20-year industry veteran. “If we can detect early mineral loss, we have different intervention technologies we can use to prevent getting to that drill and fill point.”

Fox calls Quantum’s approach “very interesting” but says that x-rays will always be needed to assess periodontal health, such as the deterioration of bone structure around the teeth.

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Testing teeth: Researchers at the University of Toronto have just assembled a clinical prototype of a new laser device (shown above) that measures thermal and light frequencies to detect early signs of decay below a tooth’s surface, where demineralization is difficult to spot with x-ray technology. The optical pen beams heat-emitting infrared light onto a tooth’s surface, and sensors within the pen measure heat and light waves that bounce back. Certain wave patterns can reveal loss of mineral content in a tooth, a sign of early decay that can lead to troublesome cavities. Credit: Quantum Technologies

Don’t discard the x-rays yet, Doc. But, this technology looks promising for another significant diagnostic tool for the dentist – one that can detect early caries, earlier than ever before.

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