Tooth fillings acting as radio receivers may be nothing more than a myth, but scientists at the National Taiwan University are developing an artificial tooth that would send rather than receive transmissions. They’re working on embedding a sensor in a tooth to keep an eye on oral goings on, along with a Bluetooth transmitter to transmit the data and tell your doctor what your mouth's been up to.
Our mouth is our most multi-purpose orifice. We breathe with it, we taste with it, we use it for eating, for talking, for expressing emotions, for making love and even foolishly trying to open the occasional beer bottle. But scientists think it's also an untapped resource for monitoring people’s health. With this in mind, National Taiwan University researchers reasoned that if they could hook up the mouth with some sensors, it could help to better understand people’s habits and identify potential health problems, such as if a person is smoking or drinking too much.
The tooth sensor is a first step in this direction. Designed to fit into an artificial tooth, it includes a tri-axial accelerometer that monitors mouth movements to figure out when the patient is chewing, drinking, speaking, or coughing, with the readings transmitted to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
Currently, the scientists are still at the proof of concept stage, so their first design dispensed with the James Bond-style artificial tooth embedded with a radio transmitter in favor of a small breakout board that’s been coated with dental resin. This makes it saliva-proof and able to be anchored to the subject’s dental work with dental cement while the transmitter’s job is done by a wire running out of the mouth. This may seem a bit low tech, but it does prevent the subject from swallowing the device if it comes loose.
Eight subjects, five men and three women, had a sensor installed and were then asked to carry out a series of tasks, such as coughing, chewing gum, drinking water or reading out loud. According to the team, the sensor was able to correctly identify the particular oral activity with a 93.8 percent success rate when it combined the data from all eight subjects, with 59.8 percent accuracy rate when using the data from seven subjects to figure out what the eighth was doing.
The team is now working on the next prototype, which will transmit wirelessly and be powered by a rechargeable battery. After that, they will improve the system’s accuracy and address safety issues.