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New tooth-mounted microchip tracks ingested food

A new micro-sensor developed by engineers in the United States can send real-time information on people’s food intake, to a mobile device. (Photograph: Fio Omenetto/Tufts University)

Thu. 29. March 2018


MASSACHUSETTS, U.S.: The digital world allows for a broad scope of data to be collected within a range of fields. In a new data collection advancement that could aid in the area of dental health as well as in other areas, engineers in the United States have developed a mini sensor that, when mounted directly on a tooth, communicates wirelessly with a mobile device, transmitting information on glucose, salt and alcohol intake.

Having the ability to monitor in real-time what happens in and around our bodies when we consume certain products can be invaluable in the context of healthcare and clinical studies. Previously, this kind of monitoring was dependent on using wearable devices that suffered from limitations such as the necessitation of a mouth guard, bulky wiring or frequent replacement as the sensors degraded.

With this in mind, researchers from Tufts University School of Engineering sought to adopt a more advanced technological approach, developing a sensor with a 2mm x 2mm footprint. The fixable sensor bonds to the irregular surface of a tooth and, similar to how a toll is collected on a highway, the sensor transmits data wirelessly in response to incoming radiofrequency signals.

The sensor is made up of three sandwiched layers a central bioresponsive layer that absorbs the nutrients or other detected chemicals, and two outer layers consisting of square-shaped gold rings. Together, the three layers act like a tiny antenna, collecting and transmitting waves within the radiofrequency spectrum. As an incoming wave hits the sensor, some of it is cancelled out and the rest is transmitted back. For example, if the central layer takes on salt or ethanol, its electrical properties will shift, causing the sensor to absorb and transmit a different spectrum of radiofrequency waves, with varying intensity. In this way nutrients and other substances are detected and measured.

Commenting on the new development, Professor of Engineering at Tufts University and co-author of the research, Fiorenzo Omenetto said, "In theory we can modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals we are really limited only by our creativity."

The study, titled “Functional, RF‐Trilayer Sensors for Tooth‐Mounted, Wireless Monitoring of the Oral Cavity and Food Consumption”, was published on March 23, 2018 in the Advanced Materials Journal.

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