New dental imaging method uses squid ink to detect gum disease

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squid ink to detect gum disease
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By combining squid ink with light and ultrasound, a team from the University of California, San Diego, has developed a new dental imaging method to detect gum disease that is non-invasive, more comprehensive and more accurate than the tools currently used for this purpose.

To assess gum health, dentists use an instrument called a periodontal probe that’s inserted in between the teeth and gums to see whether and how much the gums have shrunk back from the teeth, creating pockets. The deeper the pockets, the more severe the gum disease.

However, using the periodontal probe is invasive, uncomfortable and sometimes painful for the patient. Measurements can also vary greatly between dentists, and the probe is only capable of measuring the depth of one pocket at a time.

In a paper published earlier this month in the Journal of Dental Research, the researchers describe how it is now possible to image the entire pocket depth around the teeth consistently and accurately, without requiring any painful poking and prodding.

“Using the periodontal probe is like examining a dark room with just a flashlight and you can only see one area at a time,” said senior author of the study Jesse Jokerst. “With our method, it’s like flipping on all the light switches so you can see the entire room all at once.”

This method involves first rinsing the mouth with a paste containing commercially available food-grade squid ink. The squid-ink-based rinse serves as a contrast agent for an imaging technique called photoacoustic ultrasound. This involves shining a light signal—usually a short laser pulse—onto a sample, which heats up and expands, generating an acoustic signal that researchers can analyse.

Squid ink naturally contains melanin nanoparticles, which absorb light. During the oral rinse, the melanin nanoparticles get trapped in the pockets between the teeth and gums. When shining a laser light onto the area, the squid ink heats up and quickly swells, creating pressure differences in the gum pockets that can be detected using ultrasound. This method enables the user to create a full map of the pocket depth around each tooth—a significant improvement over the conventional method.

The team tested their photoacoustic imaging method in a pig model containing a mix of shallow and deep pockets in the gums. While their results closely matched measurements taken using a periodontal probe, they were also consistent across multiple tests. On the other hand, measurements with the periodontal probe varied significantly from one test to another.

“It’s remarkable how reproducible this technique is compared to the gold standard,” Jokerst said.

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