The tooth sensor that tracks what you eat

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Scientists have developed a miniaturised sensor that can be fitted to a tooth to monitor your alcohol, sugar and salt intake.

The 2mm-by-2mm device, devised by researchers at the Tufts University School of Engineering in the U.S, communicates wirelessly with a mobile device and transmits information about what the user is eating and drinking.

When the user eats certain types of food, the sensor changes colour. For example, if salt or alcohol is consumed, the electrical properties shift and cause the sensor to absorb and transmit a different range of radiofrequency waves. This is how it detects and measures nutrients.

Other wearable devices for monitoring dietary intake have their limitations, including requiring the use of a mouth guard, bulky wiring, or regular replacement due to sensors degrading rapidly.

The new sensor could be another step forward in health monitoring, with the hope of helping doctors in providing advice to patients on their diet and overall health.

The researchers suggest the device could be invaluable in the context of health care and clinical studies, adapting to detect a wide range of other nutrients and chemicals, as well as monitor stress hormones in saliva.

Fiorenzo Omenetto, corresponding author and the Professor of Engineering at Tufts University, said: “In theory we could modify the bioresponsive layer in these sensors to target other chemicals – we are really limited only by our creativity. We have extended common RFID [radiofrequency ID] technology to a sensor package that can dynamically read and transmit information on its environment, whether it is affixed to a tooth, to skin, or any other surface.”

How much is too much?

According to the Heart Foundation, salt is essential for life, but Australians are consuming too much. There’s salt in almost everything we eat, with 75% of our salt coming from packaged and processed foods, including bread, breakfast cereal products, processed meats, soups, sauces and spreads. Salt is made up of sodium and chloride and it’s the sodium that can be bad for your health. Eating too much sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk for heart disease.

Carbohydrates are also necessary for energy, but it’s advised to choose healthier ‘carbs’ as well as limit foods high in added sugars. Sugar itself is a type of carbohydrate and while there’s no scientific research to show that sugar causes heart disease, too much of anything, including sugar, can increase the risk of weight gain and in turn increase the risk of heart disease.

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