RFID to Track Dentures at Nursing Homes

Nobilium's solution, from Syrma Technology, provides an automatic-identification method for nursing homes and hospitals in the form of a passive HF or NFC tag built into the dentures, to link a patient's ID with the false teeth as they are cleaned or maintained.
Published: November 27, 2017

Dental prosthetics maker Nobilium is providing an RFID-enabled denture identification system aimed at helping nursing facilities to meet regulatory standards for denture care, while also ensuring that false teeth are never inadvertently given to the wrong patient. With RFID technology from Syrma Technology embedded in the rear gum area on a denture, Nobilium explains, the false teeth can be identified from the point of manufacture, and then at nursing homes where caregivers can link them with the correct patient.

The RFID-enabled dentures have been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will be available for users commercially during the coming months, following Nobilium’s internal testing. The solution consists of a tag that accommodates one of two possible high frequencies: 13.56 MHz RFID chips compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, or Near Field Communication (NFC) chips—also operating at that same frequency—compliant with ISO 14443. Both the HF and NFC tags can be interrogated using a Syrma RFID reader connected to a computer with a USB port, or via an NFC-enabled smartphone.

Historically, identifying dentures at nursing homes and hospitals has proved challenging, though essential. Nursing home personnel clean the false teeth, then return them to the proper patients, but there is always a risk that the dentures could end up missing or be returned to the wrong individuals. Additionally, dentures are frequently found on lunch trays and in bed sheets.

“Dentures are lost on a regular basis,” says Devon Howe, Nobilium’s president and CEO, “and this is a big problem in nursing homes and hospitals.” The issue is severe enough, he adds, that 27 U.S. states have enabled laws to insure that every set of dentures is identified with the correct patient’s name or some other unique ID.

Compliance with these regulations may be spotty, however, according to anecdotal information Howe has heard—and there are good reasons for that, he notes. Labelling dentures invades the privacy of a patient, for one thing. “Patients don’t want their names on their denture,” Howe says, simply because it can be embarrassing for others to learn that they have false teeth. In addition, he says, indelibly adding patient names onto dentures at the manufacturing lab requires the added cost of labor, and dental laboratories charge an extra fee for this service in many cases. This is an expense that dentists who fit the dentures to patients would need to pay or pass on to the patient.

Howe met with Paul Dahl, Syrma Technology’s director of RFID business, to consider how the company might develop a solution. Howe had seen RFID chips used for tracking pets, and wondered if the same could be applied to dentures—identifying a particular set of false teeth with a reader and then storing that data on a cloud-based server.

“We believed our RFID experience would be a perfect fit for pairing the right combination of tags, readers and custom software development,” says Sreedharan NG, Syrma Technology’s senior VP of design, engineering and quality.

The team faced the challenges of ensuring that the tags chosen could withstand the harsh environment involved in the cleaning process, in which bio acids are used. They also needed to meet the FDA’s 510(k) requirements for use in the mouth. In addition, NG says, “Other key challenges involved developing a tag that functioned effectively [when] embedded in the dense denture materials.”

Syrma’s engineers designed a tag that included bio-compatible materials for miniaturized tags and inlays measuring 2 millimeters to 3 millimeters (0.08 inch to 0.1 inch) in diameter, in order to accommodate either of the two RFID chips. The tags come with chips from NXP Semiconductors for either the HF or NFC versions, built into Syrma’s inlay. Syrma designed and developed its own reader using an NFC RFID reader chipset supplied by Texas Instruments.

The unique ID number encoded onto each tag is linked to the correct patient’s identification, as well as his or her dentist and the date on which the dentures were assigned. Other information can be input in the software as well.

The tags are visible so that the nursing staff can easily locate them for scanning. They could be used in a variety of ways, the company reports. For instance, if employees want to collect a record of the cleaning and maintenance provided for a particular set of dentures, they could read the tag each time those false teeth were processed, or before they were returned to a patient, so as to view that individual’s name and confirm his or her identity.

More commonly, Howe says, the tags will not likely be used unless dentures are misplaced. For instance, if a worker is processing dentures and finds a set that cannot be unaccounted for, he or she can simply scan the tag to view the patient’s identity. The data is captured in the cloud and can be viewed on the reader’s screen. However, he adds, the system could also be to used to scan lunch trays or bed sheets as they pass through a processing station to detect lost dentures.

If the HF version of the tag is used, nursing homes can simply employ the Syrma reader plugged into a desktop or mobile computer. The reader captures tag IDs and forwards the collected data to the Nobilium cloud-based server, where Syrma Technology software resides to manage that information. If the NFC version is being utilized, a smartphone can interrogate each tag, and the phone will then use an app from Syrma to forward that data directly to the server.

The benefit for nursing homes and dentists, Howe says, will be an auto-ID system built into each pair of dentures that can meet state laws, as well as prevent any loss or misassignment of dentures. “We are the first company to do this,” In addition, the material used in a denture fabrication process can be entered into the system and linked to the RFID number to make any necessary repair work easier and more effective for dentists.

Howe says he hopes the solution will lead to industry adoption that would make the implanting of RFID technology part of the standard for dental care.