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RFID-enabled Tooth Transmits Sensor Data About Diet

The Tufts University development has led to a sensor tag with a layer that swells according to the presence of chemicals or nutrients, affecting the quality of the RF transmission so that users could track what they ingest and the health effect it has on them.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 04, 2018

Researchers at Tufts University's School of Engineering have developed an RF system that captures sensor data and transmits it to a reader from a unique environment: a person's mouth. The passive RFID tag is designed to be attached to a tooth, with a layer of built-in sensors that respond to such conditions as the presence of sugar or sodium, as a person enjoys a meal or snack. Tag transmissions are sent via 400 MHz RFID to an interrogator, and are then modified according to those conditions. The technology can identify not only the intake of specific nutrients or chemicals, the team reports, but also the body's response to that intake, based on changes to a person's saliva.

Fiorenzo Omenetto, the dean of research at Tufts' School of Engineering, has led the efforts to develop a system that can automate the capture and collection of nutritional data while a person eats. The researchers speculate that this solution could have commercial benefits for health-care providers or those who wish to manage their diet based on health limitations. Tufts' engineering department has already been working on implantable electronics, he says, that could provide a health-care benefit while being unobtrusive. According to Omenetto, the RFID-enabled sensor tag is the latest prototype to result from those efforts.

A miniaturized sensor mounted on a tooth. (Photo: SilkLab, Tufts University)
Existing technology has offered a few options for tracking dietary intake, Omenetto explains, but they have been difficult to use. Systems include a mouth guard that can be inserted in the mouth, but that would be uncomfortable to use all day. There are also wired solutions, but they similarly could only be used when plugged in. Not only is such technology bulky to wear, he notes, but it requires efforts on the part of a user to insert it into his or her mouth.

In recent years, the team had tested the use of off-the-shelf high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID tags that could be attached to the skin, but now they were looking for something that would work inside the mouth, where food contents could be analyzed. Traditional RFID tags with sensors, Omenetto explains, would be too bulky for comfortable use by individuals. The 2-millimeter-square tag can be attached to a person's tooth via an adhesive and responds to a specialized 400 MHz reader built at the Tufts lab.

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