Inexpensive laser diodes and fiber-optic technology have revived optical transillumination as a promising diagnostic method for the early detection of dental caries. The principal factor limiting transillumination through dental hard tissue is light scattering in the normal enamel and dentin. Previous studies have shown that the scattering coefficient decreases with increasing wavelength. Therefore, the near-IR region is likely to be well suited for fiber optic transillumination. The objective of this study was to measure the optical attenuation of near-IR light through dental enamel at 1310-nm and 1550-nm. These laser wavelengths are readily available due to their suitability for application to fiber optic communication. In this study the collimated transmission of laser light through polished thin sections of dental enamel for various thickness from 0.1 to 2.5 mm was measured in cuvettes of index matching fluid with n= 1.63. Beer-Lambert plots show that the attenuation coefficients are 3.1+/- 0.17cm-1 and 3.8+/- 0.17cm-1 for 1310-nm and 1550-nm, respectively. This study indicates that near-IR laser wavelengths are well-suited for the transillumination of dental enamel for caries detection since the attenuation through normal tissue is an order of magnitude less than in the visible.© (2002) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.