Scanning Electron Microscopy in Dental Studies

In dental studies, microscopy is considered a versatile tool. While optical microscopy finds usage in day-to-day practices in dental clinics, the ability of electron microscopy to offer a large variety of surface information makes it perfect for use within a large variety of research subjects as well. The following examples offer added insights into how in-detail scanning electron microscopy (SEM) can be utilized in a variety of dental studies.

How Enamel Erosion can be Impacted by Toothpaste

A well-researched study, published by Colombo et al. [1], highlights the manner in which enamel erosion — which can occur due to the consumption of soft drinks — can be impacted by toothpaste. Colombo et al. compared three different types of enamel, by observing the enamel surface and using a SEM and morphological analysis. These three types of enamel were:

  1. An intact enamel surface;
  2. An enamel surface treated with Coca-Cola (i.e. soft drink of choice);
  3. An enamel surface treated with different toothpastes

It was noted that specimens treated with fluoride toothpaste displayed honey-comb structures that are characteristic of demineralized enamel. Nevertheless, they showed a healthier surface than samples treated with purely soft drinks.

After treatment, the samples that were the closest to the original/healthy state of enamel were those that were treated with Zinc-Hydroxyapatite toothpaste. Thus, Colombo et al. concluded that the SEM study enabling a qualitative understanding of the processes of demineralization of the enamel surface.

This is what a tooth filling interface looks like with an electron microscope

Figure 1. This is what a tooth filling interface looks like with an electron microscope

The Impact of Laser Usage in the Treatment of Root Channel

The focus of another study by Shahriari et al. [2] was the impact of laser usage in root channel treatment. Through the course of this experiment, the identification of organic/inorganic debris and smear layers on the root canal walls was done using the SEM. This was conducted after endodontic preparation, thus allowing the researchers to obtain images of dentinal tubules. From their analysis, Shahriari et al. concluded that different concentrations of sodium hypochloride activated using a laser were effective in the removal of the smear layer. However, the standard protocol still proved to be more effective than the tested one.

The Presence of Bacterial Adhesion on Sample Surfaces after Polymer Deposition

The use of scanning electron microscopy is not just apt for imaging teeth surfaces or tooth filling interactions. This technique also finds applications in tooth wear. Tupinambá et al. [3] provide insights into the usage of polymer films for conventional and self-ligating metallic brackets. These scholars performed SEM analysis to assess the presence of bacterial adhesion on sample surfaces after polymer deposition.

To look at slot and wing areas, backscattered electrons (BSE) were used. In effect, they concluded that the Hexamethyldisiloxane (HMDSO) polymer deposition on conventional brackets tended to reduce the surface roughness and the biofilm formation. Moreover, there is a need for further studies regarding polymers to evaluate the influence of self-ligating brackets.

As is evident here, a scanning electron microscope proves to be an extremely powerful tool in the production of high-quality images of surface structures, thanks to its ability to provide detailed surface information within a wide variety of research subjects.


[1] Remineralizing effect of a zinc-hydroxyapatite toothpaste on enamel erosion caused by soft drinks: Ultrastructural analysis, Colombo et al., J Clin Exp Dent 2017; 9 (7): e861-8.

[2] Efficacy of Sodium Hypochlorite Activated With Laser in Intracanal Smear Layer Removal: An SEM Study, Shahriari et al., J Lasers Med Sci 2017 Winter; 8 (1): 36-41.

[3] Bacterial adhesion on conventional and self-ligating metallic brackets after surface treatment with plasma-polymerized hexamethyldisiloxane, Tupinambá et al. Dental Press J Orthod 2017 July-Aug 22 (4): 77-85.

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Last updated: Apr 23, 2019 at 5:59 AM


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