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Squid ink provides new dental imaging technology

The research suggests that squid ink has an alternative use to coloring pasts black; it has the potential to be used for assessing gum disease. This would form the basis of a more accurate and, important for the patient, painless method of assessing oral health.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego have found that by combining squid ink with light and ultrasound, an improved dental imaging method can be fashioned. Current methods for inspecting gums for disease are periodontal probes. A periodontal probe is used in the dental armamentarium, consisting of a long, thin device which is blunted at the end. The probe is used to measure pocket depths around a tooth in order to establish the state of health of the periodontium (the specialized tissues that both surround and support the teeth).

There are markings inscribed onto the head of the instrument for accuracy and readability. With the markings, the deeper the pocket, then the more severe is the gum disease. The use of the instrument is often a source of patient discomfort.

Commenting on the new technology, Professor Jesse Jokerst, who led the research, told Bioscience Technology some background detail that helped inspire the research: “The last time I was at the dentist, I realized that the tools that are currently being used to image teeth and gums could use significant updating.”

With the new method, PBS reports, ultrasound is used after a swish of squid ink around the mouth of the patient. The ink is a very dark liquid composed of melanin nanoparticles. These particles have a special property which absorb a lot of light. When the ink is hit with a laser, the squid ink in the mouth warms up and begins to swell. This creates differential pressures in the gum pockets. These pressure differences are then detected by ultrasound.

The paste is easy to develop and at a low cost. For their study the researchers used food-grade squid ink mixed with water and cornstarch. The paste overcomes previous problems that have limited the application of ultrasound in dentistry, which include the complicated geometry of the teeth and gums.

The new study has been published in the Journal of Dental Research. The research paper is called “Photoacoustic Imaging for Noninvasive Periodontal Probing Depth Measurements.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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