Is your iPhone the key to the early detection of cavities? How many cavities can you look back on and say, “If only I had known about this sooner”? A leading-edge thermophotonic lock-in imaging (TPLI) technology out of Toronto, Canada is paving the way for everyday consumers to be able to self-detect cavities and tooth decay.


Cavities begin with small amounts of mineral loss on the surface of teeth. Acidic dental plaque that builds on the surface of teeth causes dental erosion. Cavities eat their way into the center of teeth and eventually find the roots of teeth. As the erosion multiplies, it becomes more difficult to reverse. However, if detected early on, the progress of a cavity can be reversed. “Dentists currently rely on two methods to detect early caries: x-ray imaging and visual inspection of the tooth surface. But both of these diagnostics have limitations: dentists can’t see caries until it is relatively advanced, and x-rays can’t detect occlusal early caries—those on the biting surface of the tooth.”

TPLI Technology

This is where two researchers at York University in Toronto come into play. Ashkan Ojaghi, Artur Parkhimchyk, and Nima Tabatabaei identified a low-cost imaging tool that allows dentists to detect cavities much sooner than x-rays or visual examinations. This non-invasive, thermophotonic lock-in imaging (TPLI) camera catches tooth damage before it is irreversible. “The TPLI tool uses a long-wavelength infrared camera to detect the small amount of thermal infrared radiation emitted from dental caries after stimulation by a light source.” These images are able to detect cavities after only 2 days, whereas a trained eye won’t see the damage for over 10 days.


TPLI Technology


Cavities in Adults

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, “92% of adults 20 to 64 have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.” Cavities are considered one of the most prevalent conditions worldwide. As this technology advances, it could become the solution that reduces this high incidence. There are plans for two main phases of the TPLI device. First, dental professionals would use it as a specialty in-office system. The tool would cost around $10,000. A second rollout would offer the technology to consumers. Commercially available thermal imaging attachments would turn an iPhone or Android into a self-detection tool.


This tool offers so many benefits to dentists and consumers alike. Early detection of cavities means less money you’ll be spending to repair the harm they cause. Look out for TPLI gadgets in a dental office or bathroom near you!