Investigations of the optical properties of enamel and dentin for early caries detection



The aim of this study was to experimentally investigate the potential of different light wavelengths to distinguish between healthy and carious tissue using a two-circle goniometer.

Materials and methods

Tooth slices were prepared from extracted human teeth that were caries free (n = 15) or had occlusal caries lesions (n = 10). The tooth slices were irradiated with diode laser modules of different wavelengths (532, 650, 780 nm). The transmitted and scattered laser light was spatially measured with a detector rotating on a two-circle goniometer. The anisotropy factor and attenuation coefficients were calculated.


Enamel was more transparent than dentin and showed wavelength-dependent attenuation. Healthy dentin showed strong light scattering at all wavelengths, independent of the tested wavelength. The calculated attenuation coefficients of carious and healthy tooth tissue differed significantly (p < 0.05; t test). In contrast to healthy enamel, carious enamel showed lower light transmission and an increase in scattering. Differences in the light attenuation of carious versus healthy dentin were less pronounced than those for enamel. Carious dentin was slightly more transparent than healthy dentin. The light of longer wavelengths showed a better penetration of all tooth structures compared with shorter wavelengths.


Healthy and carious dentin and enamel exhibited distinct optical properties using laser light at different wavelengths. In dentin, changes in the optical properties caused by caries are significantly less pronounced.

Clinical relevance

The clear distinction between healthy and carious enamel makes optical caries diagnostic systems ideal tools for early caries detection.

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These authors contributed equally to this paper.

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Correspondence to Lea Hoffmann.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors. All experimental procedures were approved by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Medicine of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany (488-15 UE).

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Hoffmann, L., Feraric, M., Hoster, E. et al. Investigations of the optical properties of enamel and dentin for early caries detection. Clin Oral Invest 25, 1281–1289 (2021).

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  • Early caries detection
  • Transillumination
  • Light scattering
  • Two-circle goniometer