Engineers from Princeton and Tufts University have created a new sensor that can be attached to your tooth and sense the presence of bacteria in your mouth on a single bacteria basis, then transmit the information. Researchers believe it could one day help fine-tune gum disease treatment, although it may provide important information about the success of different preventative treatments.
A Temporary “Tattoo”
Researchers dubbed the sensor a “tooth tattoo,” but to understand it better, think of it like a temporary tattoo, but it’s actually more similar to a sticker. It’s made up of three layers: a gold foil sheet that serves as electrodes, an atom-thick layer of graphite that is called a graphene, and a small chain of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). If that sounds simple, it’s not. Researchers had to craft a special peptide that would bond to the graphene and to the bacteria they hope to detect. This sticker is applied to a backing of engineered silk that gives additional support for the thin matrix. The silk is applied to the tooth, but will dissolve in about 15-20 minutes.
When these molecules bind to the bacteria, it changes the electrical conduction pattern of the sticker. The sticker doesn’t have any batteries, but when it is pinged with radio signals, it sends back an echo whose pitch contains information about the presence of bacteria.
Limited Sensing Capacity, but Unlimited Promise
Currently, the sensor is only capable of detecting gram-negative bacteria, which are responsible for periodontal disease. Researchers hope to continue working on the sensor to improve its ability to sense different types of bacteria.
After that, researchers hope to improve the sensor’s ability to detect markers for other types of diseases, which appear in human saliva. Ulcers, cancers, and infections all leave markers in saliva, and could give doctors information that currently requires a blood draw or biopsy.
Although we don’t yet have a near-magic bacteria tooth sticker, Dr. Polley utilizes many of the most advanced dental treatments available, such as the Carifree system. To learn how these technologies may benefit you, please contact Dr. James B. Polley in Summerlin today.