PERIODONTICS: Inventions and innovations

May 1, 2001
One painless application will replace the acid-producing bacteria for life.

In February, I attended the Dental Manufacturers of America's Entrepreneurial Venture Fair for the Global Dental Industry. Almost three dozen inventions, innovations, and potential new products were presented. The fair showcases inventions and research findings that have the potential to be the next new wave in dentistry, pending the infusion of venture capital. I then attended the Chicago Midwinter Meeting and saw a few new products now available.

Here are the highlights of those findings:

  • Medic Group USA is developing an in-office saliva test for breast cancer. Researchers have identified a salivary marker associated with early breast cancer in women. This salivary marker for breast cancer is present even before radiographic detection. Within minutes, a yes/no result is available, similar to a home pregnancy test. A more sophisticated analysis is under development to provide qualitative and quantitative results.

Since breast cancer is diagnosed 186,000 times each year in the United States, resulting in 43,000 deaths, this low-cost saliva test will provide early detection for those at high risk. Saliva testing will supplement self-examination and mammograms and should be available in 2002.

  • Quantitative Light Fluores-cence (QLF) is technology used for the detection of enamel demineralization. Inspektor Research Systems of Holland received a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to carry out a three-center research project on this technology. The light is used to detect initial demineralization and capture the image on a computer for future comparisons.

Detecting demineralization before dental decay occurs will allow clinicians to initiate remineralization techniques to prevent decay. Photos in the prospectus showed how effective this technology is on the proximal surface of an extracted tooth. Unfortunately, in the mouth it is not quite as easy to do. With more development, it should be quite an exciting tool for early recognition of demineralization.

Inspektor Research Systems is also working on a home-use approach to assist parents in directing children's plaque removal and fluoride applications.

  • Dental Medicine International, Inc., has developed a RiskCalculatortrademark and Guided Treatment Planning program to determine periodontal risk using the Internet. Rather than develop a software program for office use, the Internet approach allows for immediate updates to refine the system and the analysis of all patients entered for risk assessment.

Information is entered for frequency of dental visits, smoking history, diabetic history, and previous periodontal surgery. Then a pocket score is entered for each sextant of less than 5 millimeters, 5 to 7 millimeters, greater than 7 millimeters, or no teeth in that sextant. Radiographic bone levels are also entered for each sextant. Other data include bleeding, furcations, subgingival calculus, or restorations, plus the patient's name, age, etc.

Within minutes, a four-page, colorful report is ready to print. The report includes information about periodontal disease, the patient's periodontal health score in one of five categories, plus a risk score of 1 to 5.

Based on these findings, treatment options are provided. A pilot system was tested in several offices and results will be published. It should soon be available from Dental Medicine International. Other products in the works are the Caries RiskCalculatortrademark and Oral Wellness Monitoring, to be available later this year and next year.

  • Visual Programs, Inc., owns the rights to the NASA patent for the Ultra Sonographic Probe. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration technology was developed as a noninvasive method of evaluating periodontal problems during space travel.

The probe contacts the tooth above the gingival margin and is moved along the gingival margin while a stream of water is directed from the probe tip into the sulcus. An ultrasonic wave passes through the water to the periodontal ligament and back. The ultrasound image of the attachment is analyzed and stored in the computer. The printout provides a graphic image of the periodontal attachment.

Professor Gayle McCombs, RDH, MS, coordinator for the clinical trails on this new probe at Old Dominion University's School of Dental Hygiene says, "... I think this technology may propel the profession into the future. As we know, a lot of patients fear the pain associated with dentistry. With this probe, there is no possibility of causing patient discomfort. In my estimation, the major benefit of the probe is that it is completely noninvasive."

A complete report on the technology was published in the March issue of Dentistry Today.

  • OraGen, Inc., holds the patents for a strain of Streptococcus mutans that does not produce lactic acid, the acid responsible for caries production. One painless application will replace the acid-producing bacteria for life. A simple diagnostic test ensures the presence of the new strain.

Dr. Jeffrey Hillman, a professor at the University of Florida, invented this technology and has conducted animal studies for the past several years. The FDA has identified the remaining animal studies needed before human trials can begin. There is great demand for new preventive approaches, especially internationally. This will definitely be one to watch.

  • POH has introduced a black dental floss called Percept! Hygienists can easily show patients how to wrap the floss around a tooth surface, plus plaque will be readily visible on the dark floss. When used properly, it still provides a squeak to indicate when the plaque has been removed.
  • Dental Air Force is a home "Prophy-JetRegistered" system. It's less abrasive than the actual Prophy-Jet, powered toothbrushes with toothpaste, or a curet. Not only does it remove plaque facially and lingually, it also reaches interproximally. Researchers at the University of Detroit Mercy completed the studies, and the product has FDA approval; it is now available for purchase. Check out their Web site: dentalairforce. com.

Trisha E. O'Hehir, RDH, BS, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter for dental professionals that addresses periodontics. The Web site for Perio Reports is She can be reached by phone at (800) 374-4290 and by e-mail at [email protected].