Published: Apr. 25, 2005 at 3:26 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2005 at 4:12 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn



Zapping away gum decay may be just a few years away. Scientists in Boston are studying a common technology that could revolutionize dental medicine.


Imagine shining a light into your mouth each night and saving your body from potentially deadly bacteria?  That may be more than just a futuristic vision.


"There are 600-800 microrganisms in the dental block," says Dr. Nikos Soukos, Director of the Applied Molecular Photomedicine Lab ath the Forsyth Institute.


Hundreds of different kinds of bacteria lurking in your mouth alone…some good—others—like black-pigmented bacteria—can lead to infection--gingivitis—even periodontitis.


 “We were able to kill this bacteria—and leave all the other microorganisms in tack,” says Dr. Soukos.


Using simple blue light at just the right intensity, researchers at the Forsyth Institute in Boston may be advancing dentistry  into a new era.


"We were able to eliminate the bad guys in 15-60 seconds," claims Dr. Soukos.


…and only the so-called "bad guys."

The researchers found that eliminating or suppressing the bad bugs – increased the good bacteria in the mouth.


Dr. Soukos says, "We are not trying to fully eliminate them—but to fully introduce balance because we believe that dental plaque is not a bad thing—but something happens that makes dental plaque a factor – which leads to the development of periodontal disease."


It's preliminary research but its implications may reach far beyond dentistry when you consider that bacteria was recently linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.


The original idea stemmed from studies using blue light to help whiten teeth.


"The way the teeth light up—we think that that conducts the light down around the gums – along the root too—so the teeth even under the gum line get irradiated by the light," says Dr. Soukos.


The Forsyth team observed no negative side effects from the treatment.


Dr. Max Goodson, Director of Clinical Research at the Forsyth Institute, says, "We are simply shining a light on the gum tissue and seeing a beneficial result. From the risk benefit ratio of a treatment—it doesn't get too much better actually."


But average Americans won’t be benefiting from the scientists’ research anytime that soon.  They are now trying to design a blue light machine for individual use.


"We are hoping that we'll be able to devise something that people may be able to use as a part of their every day home care," says Dr. Goodson.


So think ahead a bit…after brushing and flossing … add a zap or two…for better health.


There’s no way to tell how long it will take the scientists to develop a device for use in the home.  They estimate – it will be just a few years—and then it’ll start appearing in bathrooms across America—right next to the battery-operated toothbrushes and mouthwash.