Squid Ink Could Save Your Smile From Gum Disease

Adding to the confusion swirling around charcoal, here's another black but beneficial substance to swish in your mouth: Squid ink, the blue-black substance ejected by cephalopods, is now suspected to fight gum disease and beautify your smile.

Squid ink is used in various food products for dyeing purposes; black pasta, for instance, is filled with the stuff. Now a new study shows that the ink provides a benign, less invasive method of testing for gum disease.

The current method involves taking a probe and jabbing it into your gums — right in the space between the gum and your teeth. If the probe sinks far, your gum health is worse. If it's blocked, you have healthier gums. Of course, this method can only investigate the health of one tiny spot on your gums at a time.

"Using the periodontal probe is like examining a dark room with just a flashlight and you can only see one area at a time," said Jesse Jokerst, senior author of the study. It's inefficient and often misses entire pockets of gums that could be suffering.

The squid ink method — more accurately titled "photoacoustic/ultrasound image after squid ink oral rinse" — permits a full and comprehensive view of gum health in just one go. A patient will rinse with the squid ink, swishing and spitting that tar-black liquid. Then, a photoacoustic ultrasound is conducted, for which the squid ink acts as a contrasting agent — the melanin responsible for its dark pigment reacts strongly with incoming light rays, producing a strong signal. The resulting imagery reveals pockets in the gums and areas where the squid ink was allowed to leak, revealing abscesses and problems.

"With our method," concludes Jokerst, "it's like flipping on all the light switches so you can see the entire room all at once." The icing on the cake? Unlike these commonplace foods, squid ink doesn't even stain your teeth.