tiny tooth sensor for tracking diet
Photo Credit: Fio Omenetto (Tufts University) / Haseeb (GadgTecs)

Scientists at Tufts University have created a small wearable sensor that can stick to your tooth and transmit what you eat. They’ve engineered a tooth-mounted sensor that tracks your every bite (and what it contains). Such a sensor may very well be useful. Nevertheless, it may also exacerbate our already-problematic relationship with food.

The sensor is only 2 square millimeters (2×2) in measurement and sticks to the surface of your tooth. The ‘gadget’ is primarily comprised of three sandwiched layers: a central “bioresponsive” layer that soaks up the nutrient or other chemicals to be identified, an outer layer consisting of 2 square-shaped gold rings. Together, the three layers act like a small antenna, transferring and gathering waves in the radiofrequency spectrum. As an inbound wave strikes the sensor, some of it is counteracted, and the rest transmitted back, much like a patch of green paint absorbs yellow wavelengths and reflects the green back to our eyes. When its central layer changes encounter different chemicals (e.g. ethanol, salt), its electrical properties shift, transmitting a unique spectrum of radio waves. At present, the patch is set up to wirelessly send information about salt, alcohol and glucose to a smartphone or a computer; its creators think it could be tailored to monitor many more metrics, including “a wide range of chemicals, nutrients, and physiological states,” based on a press release.

With such an inexpensive and simple design, the sensor may very well be made widely available. That could be an enormous boon to researchers who need a cheap method to monitor nutrients in a study, or to individuals who wish to get their diet in check and for whom costly fitness trackers are out of reach, or just don’t cut it. In any case, let’s face it, we are incredibly terrible at remembering what we ate, and how much of it did we gulp down.

Any Side Effects Of The Smallest Tracker?

However, a tracker like this one might also have some adverse side effects.

Mobile calorie and exercise-tracking apps already allow folks to obsess over their every meal, right down to the macronutrient, and anecdotal evidence suggests doing so can exacerbate eating disorders and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Clinical psychologist Lara Pence, of the Renfrew Center Eating Disorder Treatment Facility, informed the New Republic: “It does not really take research for us as an organization or for me as a clinician to see their damaging qualities.” Dr Pence emphasised that the sense of guilt that trackers promote when a consumer crosses their calorie allotment for the day “speaks to the very core pathology of the disease: If I do this, then I’ve to do that.”

tiny tooth tracker diet sensor
Image Credit(s): Fio Omenetto, Ph.D., Tufts University

Indeed, a study done in 2017 discovered that fitness monitoring gadgets, in general, have been associated with eating disorder symptoms amongst college students (although, surprisingly, the same didn’t hold true for calorie counting apps). Unfortunately, there’s a substantial lack of scientific research on their broader impact.

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Will It Be Worth Getting

How would a sensor that takes away the most labour-intensive a part of fitness monitoring — data entry — fit into that trend? To paint with a broad brush, our modern culture already has an unhealthy obsession with body type and appearance. A tooth-mounted sensor most likely wouldn’t give individuals eating disorders; these medical conditions are way more complicated than that. However it might potentially worsen the symptoms of people that have already got these problems, and make it a lot easier for others to overlook that eating sometimes is not just about calories and nutrients — it is also something that can convey cultural understanding and, you know, pleasure. So if it’s not expensive, then hell yeah!!


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