A team of scientists from the University of Liverpool has won an award for developing a device that can identify early tooth decay and plaque before it is visible to the human eye.
The innovation, iDENTifi, comprises a clinical digital camera which incorporates Qualitative Light Induced Fluorescence (QLF) technology to take images of the mouth using blue light and special filters which can show up cavities and plaque. The images can then be transferred using wireless technology to a computer, laptop, ipad or smart phone for immediate assessment and evaluation by a dental care professional.
The tool shows up early stage plaque, tiny cavities, secondary cavities which develop when fillings start to fail and cavities which can occur on the smooth surfaces - or biting surfaces - of teeth. The device can identify more mature and potentially damaging plaque without the need for current methods using unsightly dyes or disclosing agents and has the potential to improve preventive dental strategies, and could change patient's dental care and dietary behaviour. iDENTifi will be of particular benefit to orthodontic patients to highlight plaque left behind after cleaning as this is more difficult with orthodontic appliances in the mouth.
Professor Sue Higham, from the Department of Health Services Research and School of Dentistry, said: "Winning a prestigious Medical Futures Award is a great honour and proves that iDENTifi is not only highly innovative but, importantly, has real commercial and market potential. Winning this award will give us access to business expertise and networks which will help iDENTifi secure the recognition and investment needed to become a viable dental healthcare product."
Plaque which isn't removed becomes thick and "mature" and may lead to gingivitis, or bleeding gums, and decay. Tooth decay is one of the most widespread health problems in the UK. More than half (55%) of adults in the UK have one or more decayed teeth and it is particularly common in children and young adults, fuelled by an increased frequency of consuming sugars in the diet and poor dental hygiene. It is estimated that between 52% and 77% of children aged 8 to 15 have some obvious tooth decay in their permanent teeth and in young people alone -45 million is currently being spent every year on the problem.
iDENTifi has been developed by a team from the University of Liverpool in collaboration with dental healthcare developers Inspektor Research Systems BV. The original concept for the device began over a decade ago when the Liverpool team wished to incorporate QLF technology into clinical SLR cameras. iDENTifi will continue to be used in clinical trials and a launch is anticipated in summer 2012.