If you're as afraid as I am when you enter your dentist's office, I have some excellent news. The London-based Society of Chemical Industry reports that UK researchers have developed a new technology that spots tooth decay almost as soon as it's begun. This new technology is based on Raman spectroscopy, a method often used to distinguish between different chemicals. According to the researchers, 'the new technique would mean that dentists could simply shine a laser on a tooth to determine whether it was healthy or not.' Human trials should start soon and it's highly possible that your dentist will use this technology in about five years. But read more...
As states Wikipedia, Raman spectroscopy "is a spectroscopic technique used in condensed matter physics and chemistry to study vibrational, rotational, and other low-frequency modes in a system." You can see above how other researchers have already used Raman spectroscopy to investigate human teeth. (Credit: National Research Council Canada) You'll find details below, but let's first look at the London-based Society of Chemical Industry news release mentioned in the introduction.
"A preliminary study at King's College London, where the technique is being developed, found that chemical changes in the tooth could be detected by analysing how light is scattered when a laser is fired at the tooth. Researchers were able to tell healthy teeth from carious teeth because bacteria, responsible for the decay, scatter light in a different way to healthy teeth. The results were presented at MicroScience 2008," which was held on June 23-26, 2008 in London.
This research work has been supervised by Dr Frederic Festy, non-clinical lecturer in the Biomaterials, Biomimetics & Biophotonics departments at King's College London, and part of the Optical Proteomics interdisciplinary research network.
But how is dental decay detected today? "Currently, decaying teeth are uncovered either by visual examination or the use of x-rays, but usually by then, the damage has been done and the decayed area must be drilled out. But Dr Steven Hogg, a microbiologist at Newcastle University's dental school, confirms that it is possible to repair teeth with a special mouthwash or fluoride varnish if dental decay is caught early enough."
In an article published by SCI's Chemistry & Industry (C&I) magazine, "Raman could end drilling and filling," Patrick Walter tells us what's in front of us. "Frederic Festy, who is supervising the project, says that the biomaterials, biomimetics and biophotonics research group is planning a larger trial using more teeth samples and hopes to move onto human trials soon. The key to the technique would be its simplicity, he explained. Festy says that they hope to have a marketable product in a little over five years." (Thanks to Meral Nugent, SCI Press and Public Relations Manager, who sent me a copy of the C&I article)
This is not the first time that researchers want to use Raman spectroscopy to detect cavities as soon as possible. For example, the National Research Council Canada (NRC) made Possible image at a National Research Council Canada to NRC oral health researchers in October 2006.
Here are some details about this project. "Working in collaboration with dental clinicians, the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics (NRC-IBD) dental caries team are developing a technology that combines an imaging technique, optical coherence tomography (OCT) and Raman spectroscopy to detect cavities much earlier. The technology is non-invasive and uses non-ionizing radiation, unlike dental x-rays which are not suited for catching early lesions." [The picture above was picked from the NRC story.]
It really looks like that these research works might really mean the end for the dreaded dentist drill and that we should be less frightened by our dentists in the future than today.
Sources: Society of Chemical Industry news release, July 18, 2008; and various websites
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