Culture

In the Future We'll Swish Squid Ink to Check for Gum Disease

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A team at the University of California-San Diego wants to make your next visit to the dentist’s office a bit less painful and invasive by asking you to swish with a squid ink-based solution to examine your mouth for gum disease.

Normally your dentist uses that obnoxious metal hook, sticking it in the pockets that form along the gumline to determine if or how far the gums may have recessed from your teeth. While checking if those pockets are at a healthy level is important for the overall health of your mouth, the process is often unpleasant and painful at times.

These researchers are working on an alternate method of verifying gum health using a paste made of food-grade cuttlefish ink, cornstarch, and water. First, the patient swishes with the compound, and then the dentist takes a photoacoustic ultrasound of their mouth. The short laser pulses from the ultrasound are absorbed into the deep black melanin nanoparticles of the squid ink, which then heat up and expand within the pockets that have formed along the gums.

Finally, the laser-induced swelling is detected by the ultrasound, which gives the dentist a clear image of the gum pocket depth around each tooth. This experimental process has not been performed on a human yet, but the trials performed on pig jaws have consistently displayed crystal-clear results that mirrored the same overall results of the traditional “little metal hook jammed in your gums” method.

The squid ink-based oral health test is still many years away from becoming a common practice at your local oral hygienist’s office. There’s still plenty to do beforehand, such as human clinical trials, and finding a way to make the solution taste less salty and bitter. Oh, and I know what you’re wondering — the inky black solution doesn’t stain teeth, and it is easily removed from your formerly pearly whites with brushing.