US scientists have created a tooth tattoo that they hope will one day detect gum disease by measuring the bacteria in the mouth
The research team, led by Princeton nanoscientist Michael McAlpine and Tufts bioengineers Fiorenzo Omenetto, David Kaplan and Hu Tao, has created a tooth tattoo made of gold, silk and graphite and temporarily attaches to a patient’s tooth.
Gerard Kugel, associate dean for research at Tufts School of Dental Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, said: ‘A sensor like this could give you a panoramic view of what’s happening over a number of hours or even days. If you could tell when bacteria levels are spiking, you could shape your course of treatment accordingly.’
The sensor’s detection abilities may also detect diseases beyond the mouth because so many indicators of disease appear in the saliva.
Gerard added: ‘The mouth is a window to the rest of the body. You can spot a lot of potential health problems through saliva, and it’s a much less invasive way to do diagnostic tests than drawing blood.’
The sensor itself is made up of three layers: a sheet of gold foil electrodes, a layer of graphite and a layer of engineered peptides. The three-tiered strip is mounted on a single strand of silk to provide support. Once the tattoo is pressed onto the tooth, the silk dissolves and the wirelessly powered sensor is stuck in place.
The research team is now working on ways to reduce the size of the sensor. The group is also looking into constructing the peptides needed to bond with specific strains of bacteria.