Early decay detection with a laser

by Dr. Charles Bell 9. March 2014 15:21

dr. charles bell

For those of us old enough, one of the most vivid images of going to the dentist was the search for biting surface decay.  Dr Smith would come into the room after your cleaning and proceed to poke, push, and prod your teeth with what my patients used to jokingly call the 'hook".

In that "technology" your dentist was trying to find any soft spots in the enamel of the grooves in your teeth.  If they felt a "stick" then out came the drill.  In reality, however dentists knew that this was a very subjective and not very accurate technique.  There was a lot of discussion about deep grooves, design of the instruments, and visual elements to the evaluation.  In conclusion, there was significant variation in opinions of “when is it a cavity”, but it was the best available diagnosis at the time.

Fortunately now there is a newer, scientifically based, painless way to diagnose these areas of decay to a very high degree of accuracy. The DIAGNOdent is manufactured by Kavo (one of the largest dental instrument makers in the world) and has revolutionized our ability to evaluate teeth for decay.

In essence the hand held laser is fluorescence meter.  The laser beam is pointed into the grooves of a tooth and the instrument quantifies the energy of the beam reflected back from the tooth.  A digital value is created and basically signifying the degree of decay in that area.  Healthy tooth structure exhibits little fluorescence and a low reading while decay shows higher fluorescence reading proportionate to the degree of decay present.

So now we are able to find decay at an earlier, smaller level than ever before!  This means smaller fillings with less tooth structure lost as opposed to very large fillings that sometimes lead to fractured teeth, crowns, and root canals.  Many times these filling can be taken care of with no anesthetic using air abrasion technology.  (more on that next time)

This is a remarkable improvement in the level of care to our patients.  Just like in medicine, the trend is early detection and early treatment.  Your teeth will be healthier in the long run with this new technique.

No more Captain Hook!

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