Pain-Free Cavity Detector Based On Doppler Radar Technology


UPDATED: Wednesday October 23, 2013 5:47 PM

The same kind of technology our meteorologists rely on to track rain and snow is now helping dentists improve smiles. A south side dentist was the first in Central Ohio to get it.

Soon, treat-or-treaters will haunt our doors, begging for a treat, much of it is candy. And if those beggars don't brush well enough, it will mean a trip to the dentist to have cavities filled.

But 12-year-old Dominic Lewis of Pickerington is not afraid of fillings.  That's because his dentist, Dr. Scott Kelly, is using a new tool to hunt for cavities.  Instead of the old-fashioned, sharp Explorer tool, he's using this device called Spectra, with a blue ultraviolet light.

"Before Spectra, we would have to feel the teeth and actually use the Explorer to determine if there were a cavity in the tooth. What the Spectra does, it actually allows us to figure out and determine if there's a cavity before we can actually feel it," he said.

Dr. Kelly scanned the outside and chewing surfaces of Dominic's teeth. When the glowing tip hit material from decay-causing bacteria, it lit up a computer monitor in different colors.  It's an adaption of familiar technology.

"It looks like the Doppler radar that you look at the weather on," said Dr. Kelly. "It's a visual effect, so it's a lot easier to show someone than just tell them about something."

The colors range from green for healthy enamel, to yellow, for serious decay.  Each spot of color also has a number value to indicate the depth of decay.  Dominic got a good report. Spectra showed his teeth as a healthy green, with only a few traces of blue which is the very earliest stages of decay.

"Dentistry is all about prevention, so if we're able to find a cavity in the very, very, very early stages, get the child to start brushing a little bit more, using some stronger fluorides, we can a lot of times reverse that cavity or keep it from getting worse," the dentist said.

Dominic was impressed.

"From the big x-ray machine that goes up against your cheek, into this just little hand held machine, is a really big advancement in technology, which is really cool," he said.

He also was pleased to hear that there was no drill in his immediate future.

"I think that's pretty nice that you don't have to get a big hole or a filling in your teeth," he said.

Dr. Kelly said that Spectra works only for the outside and chewing surfaces of the teeth.  To look between teeth for cavities, he said, dentists still need to use x-rays.

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