Optical pH measurement system using a single fluorescent dye for assessing susceptibility to dental caries

Manuja Sharma, Jasmine Y. Graham, Philip A. Walczak, Ryan M. Nguyen, Lauren K. Lee, Matthew D. Carson, Leonard Y. Nelson, Shwetak Patel, Zheng Xu, Eric J. Seibel
(a) In vivo measurement and (b) mean resting pH and sucrose response of two subjects after 0.3-M sucrose rinse. pH value before 0 min indicates mean resting pH of subject’s tooth. Tooth number is listed in the legend along with the surface (OC: occlusal). The time from 1 to 16 min is the dynamic sucrose response obtained by taking measurements every 5 min.


Sugar-rich diets and poor dental hygiene promote the formation of a biofilm (plaque) that strongly adheres to the dental enamel surface and fosters the evolution of aciduric bacteria. The acid contributes to demineralization of the exterior tooth enamel, which accelerates after the pH drops below a critical value (∼5.5) for extended time periods resulting in the need for restorative procedures. Preventative techniques to alert the dentist and caries-susceptible patients regarding vulnerability to dental decay require a clinical measure of plaque activity. Therefore, there is a need to evaluate the acid production capability of plaque deposits in the pits and fissures of occlusal and interproximal regions. A ratiometric fluorescence pH-sensing device has been developed using an FDA-approved dye and LED excitation. Fluorescein spectral profiles were collected using a spectrometer and analyzed with a spectral unmixing algorithm for calibration over the pH range of 4.5 to 7. An in vivo pilot study on human subjects was performed using a sucrose rinse to accelerate bacterial metabolism and to measure the time-dependent drop in pH. The optical system is relatively immune to confounding factors such as photobleaching, dye concentration, and variation in excitation intensity associated with earlier dye-based pH measurement techniques.