DISCONCERTING FACT: Light-cured resin composite fillings (the white or “tooth coloured” fillings generally preferred these days) are three times more likely to require replacement than traditional amalgam fillings (the old grey metal ones).
That’s a lot of time, energy, money, and pain devoted to replacing fillings – and other light-cured dental materials like crowns, veneers, and sealants – that fail before they should. BlueLight Analytics, Inc., based in Halifax, is out to change that.
According to BlueLight CEO Colin Deacon, one of the key reasons resin-based fillings don’t last as long as they should is found in the curing process. Dentists use blue light to set the fillings – but the equipment that emits the light varies greatly, producing different levels and consistency of energy. Although the resin composites require a very specific level of light and heat to cure properly, dentists have had no way to measure the light energy produced by their equipment. In other words, curing a filling has included a certain amount of guesswork.
“We go to dental offices, and in about 40 per cent of cases, there is absolutely no way for the dentist to deliver the energy dose required by the manufacturer,” Deacon says. “And fillings that aren’t set correctly can lead to tooth sensitivity, secondary decay, increased wear …”
BlueLight’s Eureka moment actually came at the dentistry school at Dalhousie University, where technology was invented to measure how much blue light was being delivered and, thus, to determine if a filling was set properly. It was crucial knowledge for students and instructors. As a training device, it was an exciting advance – enough to let Deacon see the broader possibilities.
“There are only about 500 dentistry schools in the world,” says Deacon. “But there are about $50 billion in white fillings placed annually, in the United States alone.”
Founded in 2009, BlueLight has moved carefully to access the global dental market. “We have to be accurate in everything we do. Dentistry is an industry of precision,” notes Deacon.
The company first released its line of MARC (Managing Accurate Resin Curing) devices, which allow users – generally dental researchers, educators, and manufacturers – to measure, control, and monitor the amount of light energy being delivered.
The products have been met with more than 12 countries, including a number of top dental schools. Perhaps most importantly, they have been involved in about 40 studies from 17 universities around the world.
Armed with data, BlueLight’s first goal has been to raise awareness on two counts: that dentists don’t have the information, training, or equipment to know if they have cured a filling properly; and, that the problem is a solvable one.
By the first quarter of 2014, CheckMARC, a chair-side service designed to be used by any dentist or dental product manufacturer, seller, or reseller, will be widely available. A portable, accurate, and web-connected device, CheckMARC takes the tested MARC technology and makes it accessible to all dental professionals, allowing them to closely monitor their light-curing equipment and usage. Dentists will know how to position their lights, how long to use them, and when the equipment needs to be replaced.
How have dentists reacted on finding out they may not have been curing fillings properly?
“Most are immediately on it, and get a new curing light,” Deacon says. “The equipment let them down. The technology is available now to make it better; to make their lives, and their patients’ lives, easier.”