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News / September 8, 2009

Laser treatment will assess tooth enamel

by Guy Hiscott

Laser-generated ultrasound could soon replace dental probes in identifying the early stages of decay, dental researchers claim.

The health assessment of patients’ teeth could be made more accurate, thanks to the new physics-based technique developed by scientists in Australia and Taiwan.

The method involves using laser-generated ultrasound to probe tooth enamel elasticity without needing to scratch the surface of teeth.


It has been developed by a team led by Professor Simon Fleming at the University of Sydney, and researchers say that their method could detect decay at an early stage.


Professor Fleming

By measuring how the surface of a tooth responds to laser-generated ultrasound, they can evaluate the mineral content of tooth.


Professor Fleming says: ‘As a remote, non-destructive technique it is applicable in vivo and opens the way for early diagnosis of tooth decay.

We are very pleased with the outcome of this research. Interdisciplinary projects have the additional level of challenge of getting experts from different technical areas to speak each others’ languages.


‘David Wang worked with dental, acoustic and optical experts and demonstrated a technique involving advances in all three areas. We use optically stimulated and detected acoustic waves to probe the surface of the enamel. The system is very effective as analysis of the detected waves reveals detailed information on the elasticity of the enamel, which is directly related to its level of mineralisation.’


He adds: There is real potential to develop an all optical fibre, hand-held probe suitable for in-vivo use for both early detection of demineralisation and analysis of the efficacy of remineralisation treatments.’

Study co-author David Hsiao-Chuan Wang

Study co-author David Hsiao-Chuan Wang, graduate student at the University of Sydney, says: ‘The ultimate goal is to come up with a quick, efficient, cost effective, and non-destructive way to evaluate the mineralisation of human dental enamel.’



Wang hopes to develop the dental ultrasound evaluation technique further by making it a hand-held dental tool.


He adds: ‘We still have a long way to go and it’s important to get funding otherwise we cannot do any more research and development. It’s a great chance for the dental industry to become more involved.’


• David Hsiao-Chuan Wang is the lead author of the paper ‘Laser Ultrasonic Surface Wave Dispersion Technique for Non-Destructive Evaluation of Human Dental Enamel’, recently published in Optics Express.