Dentists have long understood that pathogenic bacteria play a central role in oral pathologies. Various kinds of bacteria in the mouth are associated with tooth decay, periodontal diseases, oral mucosal diseases, endodontic diseases, and even oral cancer. Early detection and monitoring of pathogenic bacteria is thus a critical component of oral disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Traditionally, dental practitioners have relied on microbiological tests to detect, diagnose and monitor oral health conditions that have pathogenic bacteria as an underlying cause or factor. These conventional tests however, are limited for a number of reasons. For one, many conventional microbiological tests do not pick up on bacterial agents that have a very low infectious dose (the amount of bacterial cells required to start an infection). Also, conventional microbiological testing requires collecting oral specimens and performing culture analyses in a laboratory. This process is technically complicated and the cultures can be difficult to interpret. Also, the need to wait for test results delays treatment.
New advances in oral microbiological testing hold promise for faster and more accurate detection and diagnosis of bacterial oral conditions. Recently, a wireless oral sensor has been developed that is able to measure and report levels and types of pathogenic bacteria in the mouth. The sensor is an ultra-thin film that is pressed onto the surface of a tooth, hence the name ‘tooth tattoo’. The sensor’s detection ability rests in its layer of specially designed peptides which bond with specific bacteria. An antenna built into the sensor powers the device and transmits data to a handheld reading device.
Compared to traditional oral disease detection and diagnostic methods, tooth tattoo sensors provide onsite detection and monitoring without the need for time-consuming laboratory testing. They are faster and more accurate at detecting even very low levels of pathogenic bacteria, and allow for better, more customized treatment of oral pathologies. Tooth tattoo sensors are still being developed and tested but may eventually become a regular feature of general dental care.
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