Could a Wireless Tooth Tattoo Detect Dental Disease in the Future?

Published:November 14th, 2012

It looks as if the answer is quite possibly yes, as researchers at Princeton and Tufts University have been developing a tattoo that can be placed on teeth. The research team consists of bio-engineers and nano scientists, and it’s hoped this tooth tattoo could eventually help dentists detect early signs of gum disease through measuring the levels of bacteria in the mouth. It isn’t actually a tattoo as it’s made out of a gold, graphite and silk composite and will only be temporarily attached to a tooth.

The idea is that the sensor within the tattoo will help give dental professionals an overview of what is happening within the mouth. They’ll be able to see when bacteria levels are peaking which could help them customise their treatment of patients. The eventual idea is that the sensor may be able to detect diseases beyond those that may be contained in the mouth, as many early indicators appear in saliva. Many potential health problems can be detected through testing saliva, and this type of diagnostic testing is far less invasive than drawing blood.

The sensor is made out of three different layers including a layer of engineered peptides, a layer of gold foil electrodes, and a layer of graphite. The whole thing is mounted onto a single strand of silk which helps provide support, and once the tattoo is placed on the tooth the silk dissolves leaving the sensor in the correct position. At the moment the research team is still working on how to reduce the size of the sensor as it’s currently much too large to be used on human teeth. In addition the group needs to work out which peptides to use in order to enable them to bond with specific bacterium.

But What about in the Here and Now?
Even though this type of development is very exciting, it won’t actually prevent gum disease or other dental diseases, and it’s still down to everyone having a good preventative oral hygiene routine. Although science is coming up with some pretty exciting ideas at the moment, including trying to develop the technology to grow replacement teeth, the truth is that there is no real substitute for looking after the teeth you already have. These developments may be more relevant for future generations, but are unlikely to ever replace the need for proper dental care.

It doesn’t really take very long to look after the teeth you’ve got every day, and to put aside 10 minutes or so to brush and floss them thoroughly. When combined with regular visits to your dentist for checkups and cleanings, most people will find this sufficient to keep their teeth relatively free from disease and decay. However there are certain groups that do need to take extra care.

This includes anyone who suffers from a systemic disease such as diabetes or AIDS. Systemic simply means that it affects the whole body, and this includes your teeth and gums. Diabetes is becoming more and more common, and many people may even be prediabetic without even knowing. In addition there are new studies coming out just about every month linking oral health to general health, showing that none of us can take anything for granted.

If you do have any existing medical conditions then it’s well worth talking to your dentist about how this might affect your oral health as they can give you a lot of useful advice.

About the author

Alison, is a UK born and educated dental professional with over 25 years experience.

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