In Brief
Squid ink, alongside ultrasound and lasers, has proven to make checking for gum health both painless and significantly more accurate.

A Strange Technique

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a method that uses squid ink to check for gum disease. The current method, which those of you wincing are already familiar with, uses metal instruments in between the gums and teeth and can be extremely uncomfortable. This painful method is also flawed in that it is less accurate than the newly developed squid procedure.

This strange technique requires that the patient gargle a concoction of food-grade squid ink, water, and cornstarch. Then, lasers are shined in and, using ultrasound, your mouth is imaged. Thanks to the dense concentration of melanin nanoparticles which swell and create differences in pressure within gum pockets when exposed to a dentists’ laser. After this laser exposure, ultrasound has an easy time accurately creating a visual map of your mouth. The depth of the gum pockets, visible on this map, show the health of your gums.

Animal Inspiration

While strange to think of gargling squid ink at your next appointment, this advancement is painless and can give dentists much better information about your mouth. And this is just one on a list of recent developments made possible by the surprising incorporation of animals. For instance, aerospace engineers are making aircraft quieter by studying owls, medical tape capable of replacing stitches and staples inspired by the gecko, and the mucus of sandcastle worms is serving as a model for a newly-invented surgical glue.

This new method for detecting gum disease and overall gum health shows how thinking outside of the box can make a positive impact. Now, if this technique becomes the new standard, there might be additional issues with squid ink supply and demand. This could lead to ethical and financial problems. But while this possibility is still probably far away, there is time to find solutions. In the meantime, we are moving away from poor gum health and widespread dentist-phobia.