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Get Inked: How Squids Are Changing the Dental Industry

One San Diego nano-engineer has created a potential solution meant to prevent painful dental appointments. But it’s a bit unique — instead of requiring dentists to poke around using metal instruments in their search for gum disease, it requires patients to swirl a cupful of squid ink around their mouths.

Jesse Jokerst, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, came up with this idea after a recent dental appointment that left him scraped, prodded, and sore. That’s because for years the standard method of checking and measuring for periodontal disease has been to use a painful, hook-shaped stick to measure a tooth’s pocket depth.

When a person starts to develop gum disease, this pocket between the gum and tooth deepens over time, and to measure the depth the gum is poked with a sharp instrument. And while painful, considering 32% of patients report being concerned by the look of their teeth, it’s all too common to get this painful procedure while sitting in the dentist’s chair.

Even dentists don’t like performing the procedure. According to PBS, some dentists don’t like using the probe because it hurts patients, can be time-consuming, and it can be hard to accurately measure the size of the gap.

So, Jokerst developed a non-invasive method that measures pocket depth using a high-resolution photoacoustic ultrasound. It uses a bright burst of light by a laser to create acoustical pressure waves, and it is used after the patient swishes the squid ink around their mouth. The squid ink is perfect for the procedure because it is a very dark liquid full of melanin nanoparticles that can absorb light.

How it works is simple. The patient takes a swish of the squid ink, the ultrasound is performed, and when the ink is hit with a laser it will heat up in the mouth and swell. This creates a pressure difference that can be picked up by the ultrasound, giving the dentist an accurate size of the periodontal gap. The ultrasound is also able to create a map of all the pockets around every tooth in just seconds.

The squid ink in question is culinary grade, so it is safe for consumption. It doesn’t stain teeth and comes off immediately after brushing.

This unique ultrasound technology has already been tested on pig jaws and the clinical trials for human use are imminent.

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