Gum disease is common in the United States. A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 47.2 percent American adults aged 30 and over (64.7 million) have periodontal disease. In adults 65 and older, prevalence rates increased to 70.1 percent. We’ve looked at a smart toothbrush, and 3D printed teeth that prevent decay but have not reported on any new health tech that detects, prevents, or treats periodontal disease. Until now.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are developing smart tooth technology to detect early signs of disease by analyzing saliva. According to Erica Lynn Scheller, a dentist and assistant professor of medicine in the School of medicine, saliva-based biosensors have the potential for a range of medical applications. The team’s first focus is to develop a biosensor that measures peptides related to bone loss that are active in periodontal disease. The “smart tooth” consists of a sensor and electronic chip designed to be inserted into the gum line or integrated into a dental appliance. A wireless ultrasound device reads the data stored by the smart tooth and transmits it to the cloud for analysis and medical attention if needed.

Analysis of salivary peptides can also reveal stress, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, according to the Washington University researchers. Future expansion of the smart tooth sensing platform could be used to track inflammation and monitor diabetes, even potentially replacing the need for diabetes patients to use finger sticks to measure blood glucose several times a day.