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Bite into this: A smart tooth
Oct. 14, 2013
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by Mark Ollig

This week I have a dentist appointment, and so what better topic to write about than a new, high-tech tooth.

Yes, indeed, faithful readers, yours truly is writing a column about a unique smart tooth created in a research laboratory at the Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering at National Taiwan University, in Taipei City.

During one test, researchers attached the smart tooth to the test subject’s real tooth using dental cement; it was then coated with dental resin.

This prototype smart tooth (a sensor-on-a-chip with built-in electronics and an accelerometer) had about 3 feet of wiring connecting it to a computer.

During testing, a computer program monitored the movement of the test subject’s mouth, and recognized the activity and motion data sent via the smart tooth.

The computer program was able to determine specific oral activities the person was engaging in.

Oral activities of the smart tooth wearer, such as: eating, drinking, smoking, coughing, and talking, were monitored and understood via the computer program. The results had an accuracy of almost 94 percent.

Chu stated how this technology would help in monitoring our health.

“Our mouth is an opening into our health; our drinking and eating behaviors shed light on our diet,” said researcher Hao-hua Chu, a computer scientist at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

“How frequently we cough also tells us about our health, and how frequently we talk is related to social activity that can be related to health,” he added.

A wireless-enabled smart tooth using Bluetooth technology is being developed which would send motion-monitored information to nearby smart devices for evaluation.

Chu revealed the idea for the smart tooth was inspired by his daughter, who needed to see the dentist on a frequent basis.

He began thinking about integrating digital technology into an artificial tooth.

Chu believes, in the future, our dentist will offer us two options for artificial teeth. The first is the traditional artificial tooth, while the second would be having a smart tooth, implanted which could monitor and record our oral activities.

The smart tooth would be mounted like a conventional dental crown by a dentist.

Currently, powering of the smart tooth is accomplished by re-charging it.

Researchers said the smart tooth would need to be removed for cleaning, and it would need a charging and storage station, “similar to that of an electric toothbrush.”

Chu feels some sort of small “energy harvester” could be added to the smart tooth which would allow it to operate for a full day without re-charging.

Additional sensors could be added to the smart tooth for detecting even more detailed information, such as the type of food a person was eating.

Researchers said they hope the information obtained will help people overcome unhealthy habits, like smoking, or overeating.

Dentists, it was reported, would be involved in the manufacturing of a future smart tooth.

For now, it is thought people requiring a dental crown would be able to wear the smart tooth; however, a future smart tooth which would fit inside the tooth cavity is being developed.

Researchers acknowledged future tooth models would have to consider safety; the smart tooth’s sensor units are small enough to be swallowed.

Sept. 11, Chu, along with his colleagues, Cheng-Yuan Li, Yen-Chang Chen, and Wei-Ju Chen, demonstrated their work on the smart tooth at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers event in Zurich, Switzerland.

When I visit my dentist, I will have to ask her when they will be offering smart teeth to their patients.

Being I still have all my wisdom teeth, this humble columnist presumably won’t need another smart tooth.

Speaking of teeth, for some reason I recall an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” where Gilligan began receiving radio station signals in one of his teeth filled by the Professor.

Also, there’s an old story about the “I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball, who after having some dental work done, told friends she was able to hear radio signals via the new fillings in her teeth.

I imagine someday someone will create a “telephone tooth” for receiving and placing phone calls. Ah, so you think this will never happen?

Whenever I thought something could never happen, my mom would say to me; “Never say never,” and mom was usually right.

A Reuters YouTube video report about the smart tooth can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-tooth1.


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