Squid ink imaging: An alternative to painful periodontal probes

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Though not commonly known, there are several benefits to squid ink—high in iron, rich in antioxidants, delicious food flavoring—and a tool to assess gum health?

Periodontal probes are the gold standard when assessing gum health and pocket depths around a tooth, but are also notorious for being invasive, uncomfortable and many times, painful.

“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,” said Jesse Jokerst, PhD, a nanoengineering professor at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and senior author of the study.

In a paper published by the Journal of Dental Research, a team introduced an innovative dental imaging method using squid ink, partnered with light and ultrasound. This method is meant to facilitate the examination of gum health that is comprehensive, accurate and painless.

Squid ink naturally contains melanin nanoparticles that absorb light. The melanin nanoparticles get trapped in the pockets between the teeth and gums after the oral rinse—consisting of commercially available food-grade squid, mixed with water and cornstarch.

When a light system is shined onto the area, the squid ink heats up and swells, creating pressure differences in the gum pockets that can be detected using ultrasound. This generates an acoustic signal which is then analyzed, a phenomenon called photoacoustic ultrasound.

A photoacoustic ultrasound enables researchers to create a full map of the pocket depth around each tooth. A full map of pocket depth around each tooth is generated, making it a more wide-ranging and comprehensive exam.

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

The team plans to collaborate with dentists to test their method in humans. Researchers also want to refine the process to minimize the taste of the squid ink oral rinse and replace laser lights with portable light systems like LEDs.