Researchers are developing a new optical imaging technique for a dental exam that uses light instead of X-rays to examine people’s teeth for cavities and cracks. Near-infrared spectrum light can penetrate the outer enamel layer, underlying dentin, pulp at the center, and gum tissue.
Part of the motivation is to decrease patients’ exposure to ionizing radiation, though the risk from dental X-rays is modest. On the other hand, alternatives to X-rays would be especially desirable for children because the radiation dose is higher to their body size and because children’s teeth evolve at such a rapid rate that more regular imaging could be beneficial. Dentists and dental assistants, who may be exposed to X-rays daily and consequently have a higher risk of infection than the general public, may also find the new dental exam technique helpful.
The fundamental reason for optical imaging’s popularity is that it can see problems that X-rays can’t. Because of their make-up, teeth are ideal for optical imaging. As the enamel is an optical fiber, it allows light to pass through it.