Tooth Sensor Watches for Bad Oral Habits

A tooth sensor can detect chewing, smoking, coughing and other mouth motions

2 min read
Tooth Sensor Watches for Bad Oral Habits

A tiny tooth sensor can detect whether a person is deviating from a diet or stuck on a smoking habit. The capability to monitor mouth motions may help physicians keep track of a patient's progress or allow a patient to better understand his or her health habits.

The sensor's accelerometer, in combination with machine learning software, will detect and distinguish between chewing, smoking, coughing, or speaking, according to New Scientist. The device's inventors at National Taiwan University in Taipei glued prototypes onto eight people's dentures to show the system could accurately recognize what the wearer is doing almost 94 percent of the time.

Working prototypes of the tooth sensor used wires to connect to a power source and a data-logging device—an awkward arrangement for human testers. But inventor Hao-hua Chu and colleagues envision the tooth sensor eventually being powered by a micro-battery and transmitting data wirelessly via Bluetooth to a smartphone. They also hope to embed the device inside artificial teeth that can be easily removed and customized for each individual.

The tooth sensor could perhaps track dental health habits as well—that is, if researchers can fine-tune the machine learning software. Trevor Johnson, a vice-chair of research at the Faculty of General Dental Practice in the UK, told New Scientist that the sensor might help monitor teeth grinding or clenching.

But commercializing the next-generation version of the tooth sensor will require more than just practical wireless communication and battery-recharging capabilities. The device's developers still need to ensure, to the satisfaction of government regulators, that it's safe to have a Bluetooth-enabled device broadcasting from a person's mouth. Taiwanese researchers also plan to securely seal the device's electronic components so they're not harmful if swallowed—much like the futuristic camera pills already being tested.

It's still a stretch to go from detecting a person's chewing motions to understanding their dietary habits. But detecting motions related to smoking or teeth grinding may prove easier for the tooth sensor to handle in the near future.

Photo: John Lamb/Getty Images

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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