Traditionally, dentists have used an instrument called an “explorer” to find cavities. During checkups, the instrument is run over a patient’s teeth. When decay is present it “sticks” in a tooth. Unfortunately, this method of decay detection is only 50% to 75% successful. Cavities can hide inside little fissures and grooves that occur on most back teeth. Further, mechanical exploratory methods typically find only those cavities that are equal in size or larger than an explorer tip.
A Fluorescent Laser Cavity Detector
A DIAGNOdent is a fluorescent laser cavity detector that can reveal decay beneath the surface of a tooth that would not otherwise be detected by conventional x-rays or visual examination. It has been proven to be 90% accurate.
This technology can detect cavities quickly with no discomfort. When healthy teeth are exposed to the wavelength of the diode laser, they don’t glow or fluoresce. However, decayed teeth glow in proportion to the amount of decay present.
Simple and Comfortable
The process is simple and comfortable. First, the laser tip placed onto the enamel surface of a healthy tooth to determine a benchmark reading. Then it is placed on all suspected areas of decay. As the laser pulses into grooves, fissures and cracks, it reflects a specific wavelength of fluorescent light. At the same time, this light is measured by receptors, converted to an acoustic signal, evaluated electronically to reveal a value of 1 to 100, and then displayed on a screen.
Comparison to a Healthy Baseline
Whenever the laser encounters a discrepancy between a tooth surface and the healthy baseline value, it stimulates emission of a different fluorescent light wavelength, resulting in higher readings on the display. So a reading of 10 to 29 indicates that there has been some enamel softening, pointing to a potential problem area that merits close monitoring. A reading of 30 to 100 indicates a definite area of decay requiring an immediate filling.
The diode laser doesn’t always work with teeth that already have fillings, but for other teeth, it can detect cavities sooner. Note that the diode laser does not replace bitewing X-rays. Instead it detects decay in grooves on the chewing surface, while X-rays can find decay between and inside teeth.