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Vol. 74, No. 10
ISSN: 1488-2159
December 2008


Shedding New Light on Early Caries Detection


• Lin-P Choo-Smith, BSc, PhD •
• Cecilia C.S. Dong, DMD, BSc (Dent), MSc (Prosth), FRCD(C) •
• Blaine Cleghorn, DMD, MS •
• Mark Hewko, BScEng, MEng •

A b s t r a c t

Dental caries continues to be a common chronic disease among various population groups. Patient care can be improved with detection at the earliest stage. However, current techniques do not have sufficient sensitivity and specificity. We discuss 2 new methods — optical coherence tomography (OCT) and polarized Raman spectroscopy (PRS) — that are potentially useful for early caries detection and monitoring.

OCT produces morphologic depth images of near-surface tissue structures with a resolution that is an order of magnitude greater than ultrasound imaging. Based on measurement of back-scattered near infrared light, OCT shows that sound enamel causes high-intensity back-scattering at the tooth surface that decreases rapidly with depth. In contrast, incipient lesions cause higher light back-scattering at the tooth surface and subsurface scattering indicative of porosity caused by demineralization. The scatter region within the enamel correlates well with the classical triangular shape of subsurface lesions observed in histologic sections. OCT imaging not only allows identification of incipient lesions, but also provides information on surface integrity and lesion depth.

PRS furnishes biochemical information about the tooth's composition, mineral content and crystallinity. The depolarization ratio derived from the dominant phosphate peak of hydroxyapatite in sound teeth is consistently lower than that from incipient caries. This difference is attributed to the change in enamel crystallite morphology or orientation that occurs with acid demineralization. Thus, PRS can be used to confirm suspect lesions determined by OCT and rule out false-positive signals from non-carious anomalies.

The combination of OCT and PRS provides a new detection method with high sensitivity and specificity that will improve caries management and patient care. Future studies are aimed at developing intraoral probes to validate the findings in vivo.


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