New Dental Tool Prototype Can Spot Acidic Conditions That Lead to Cavities

In a new study, University of Washington researchers have shown that a dental tool they created can measure the acidity built up by the bacteria in plaque that leads to cavities.

The O-pH system is a prototype optical device that emits an LED light and measures the reactions of that light, the fluorescence, with an FDA-approved chemical dye applied to teeth. The O-pH then produces a numerical reading of the pH, or acidity, of the plaque covering those teeth. Knowing how acidic the plaque is can tell dentists and patients what area of a tooth is most at risk of developing a cavity.

“Plaque has a lot of bacteria that produce acid when they interact with the sugar in our food,” said Manuja Sharma, lead author and a doctoral student in the UW Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “This acid is what causes the corrosion of the tooth surface and eventually cavities. So, if we can capture information about the acidic activity, we can get an idea of how bacteria are growing in the dental biofilm, or plaque.”

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