Image: National Taiwan University
Lying through your teeth just took on a whole new meaning. Cigarettes, drinking, eating too much or too little food—we all have our vices, and vices are hard to drop. When, say, New Years rolls around, it’s easy to make promises to cut them out with no intention of following through.
That’s why this new invention, a wi-fi-enabled tooth sensor, is so intriguing. Researchers at National Taiwan University have created a tooth-embedded sensor that will catch you in an unhealthy act, whatever it may be, and lets your doctor know so he can shame you during your next checkup. The sensor consists of a tiny circuit that fits inside a tooth cavity and can be rigged into dentures and dental braces. The circuit is able to recognize the jaw motions of drinking, chewing, coughing, speaking, and smoking, and the results get sent directly to your doctor’s smartphone.
To test the prototype, Hao-hua Chu and his team at the university secured the sensor into eight people, and the results were promising. Although the prototype is hooked up to an external wire, the sensor correctly identified oral activities and motions 94% of the time. The next step will be installing a rechargeable internal battery and wireless communication. Researchers are also looking into constructing a recharging and storage unit “similar to that of an electric toothbrush,” since some users must remove artificial teeth before sticking the sensor in.
“Because the mouth is an opening into human health, this oral sensory system has the potential to enhance exiting oral-related healthcare monitoring applications such as dietary tracking,” the study says.
Safety is still a big concern, though. The prototype needed to be attached to a tether so participants don’t swallow the device, and so the electronics remain intact when wet. A Bluetooth radio is also on the list of things to add, and can make it easier for researchers and doctors to keep tabs on the results.
"This could have a number of uses in dentistry, for example as a research tool, for monitoring patients who clench or grind their teeth, and for assessing the impact of various dental interventions,” Trevor Johnson, vice-chair of research at the Faculty of General Dental Practice, told New Scientist.
If the sensor gets all the appropriate adjustments, it has the potential to curb all kinds of addictions. One of them is smoking. In 2011, 43.8 million American were smokers, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and that number just includes adults. Each day in the United States, nearly 4,000 people under 18 try their first cigarette, and almost 1,000 become daily smokers. But a staggering 69% of these smokers are looking for a way to quit completely. This new sensor could help.
The research will be presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers in September. Until then, maybe it’s time to try stopping your bad habits yourself.