At our Castle Rock dentistry, Drs. Ryan and Skinner always strive to provide patients with a comfortable and relaxing experience. We know that not everyone enjoys visiting the dentist, that’s why our team works hard to create a stress-free office environment where the needs of the patient always come first.
However, despite our best efforts, some treatment options may cause a little more discomfort than patients might like, especially when our team probes gum tissue checking for the signs of gum disease. The time-consuming and slightly uncomfortable procedure causes unnecessary anxiety in some patients, while frustrating our gentle dental hygienists who wish there was an easier way.
Well, now there may soon be an option.
A nanoengineer in San Diego has developed a process to test patients’ gums for disease without using a sharp metal probe. The process involves imaging gums after the patient has swished around a solution containing squid ink.
Jesse Jokerst, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, decided to look for an alternative treatment option while at the dentist getting his gums checked.
“These tools are really old,” says Jokerst. “Have you seen a periodontal probe? It’s just a metal stick.”
Improving the Patient Experience
While the field of dentistry has advanced remarkably in recent years, for decades the accepted method for measuring periodontal pocket depth –the gaps between the tooth and the gum line that deepen in patients suffering from gum disease – has been to use a hook-shaped metal probe. The process isn’t one that patients – or even dentists – tend to enjoy.
Unfortunately, dental probing is a vital part of any dental exam and a necessary method for detecting gum disease, which can destroy gum tissue and lead to permanent tooth loss. Due to the need for the procedure, many oral health professionals wish there was another higher-tech solution.
Not only is the process painful to the patient, there’s also a possibility that disease and bacteria from an unhealthy part of the mouth could inadvertently be transferred to healthy area. While these are troubling issues, more troubling is that the test isn’t always 100 percent accurate. It relies heavily on the clinician administering the exam and the type of read they get on a patient’s gums.
Poor readings of pocket depth could allow gum disease to worsen, leading to the potential of severe gum disease and tooth loss.
In a paper published recently in the Journal of Dental Research, Prof. Jokerst and his colleagues describe a non-invasive method designed to accurately measure pocket depth using a high-resolution photoacoustic ultrasound, which utilizes short burst of laser light to create acoustical pressure waves.
The ultrasound is used after the patients swish around the solution of squid ink, an extremely dark liquid that contains high levels of melanin nanoparticles that absorb light. When hit by laser light, squid ink begins to heat and swell, creating pressure differences in the gum pockets that the ultrasound can easily read.
The study was first conducted on pig jaws, but clinical trials involving humans are scheduled to begin shortly. The squid ink, which actually comes from the cuttlefish, a close relative of the squid, is the same type used in cooking – such as in squid ink pasta – so it’s entirely safe for human consumption. Just as importantly, squid ink does not stain the teeth and is easy to remove by brushing.
Advances Still Needed
While human trials are in the process of being planned, a few hurdles still exist before this type of treatment will be available at our Caste Rock dentistry.
The first hurdle is to make the ultrasound equipment used in the procedure cheap enough that dental offices can afford the technology. Next, researchers need to develop an artificial intelligence capable of properly reading the ultrasound data. That’s proven challenging, because of the complicated geometry of the mouth and the fact that soft tissue (gums) lies adjacent to hard tissue (teeth).
Finally, researchers need to improve the taste of the squid ink, which currently is a little too bitter for the average patient to enjoy. But that’s more easily solved. “We’re planning on adding a lot of mint,” says Jokerst.
However, despite the possible delays, you can be sure that at our Castle Rock dentistry we always be on the lookout for the latest tools and techniques that help improve patient comfort.