British Dental Journal 212, 360 (2012)
Published online: 27 April 2012 | doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2012.333

'Tooth tattoo' could warn of bacteria in saliva

Laura Pacey

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'Tooth tattoo' could warn of bacteria in saliva

(Reproduced with permission from Nature Communications)

New research published in Nature Communications describes attaching a battery-free, wireless sensor onto teeth to give advance warnings about infections, cancer and other medical issues.

US-based authors Mannoor et al.1 have devised an approach using a wireless graphene-based sensor transferred onto tooth enamel, through water-soluble silk bioresorption, to detect bacteria in saliva that can indicate a variety of health problems. As graphene is only one atom thick with significant electrical and sensing properties, this material shows particular promise for detection of many bacteria that can remain hidden in low minimum infective doses.

Graphene-based nanosensors with a wireless readout coil are printed onto water-soluble silk films, which like a temporary tattoo can then be transferred to biological materials, such as tooth enamel and soft tissue. Bacterium binding agents coating the sensor enable the system to successfully detect specific bacteria present in saliva samples and other media.

Monitoring of Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobactor pylori cells in saliva tested the ability of the tooth sensors to recognise these malicious microbes, which are responsible for significant health risks such as post-surgical wound infections and the development of duodenal ulcers and stomach cancers.

This could have a significant impact on health-quality monitoring, particularly in hospitals, and although the research describes only a prototype tested on a bovine tooth, further development on tissues and teeth in living animals and humans could advance the product's functionality in in vivo systems with similarly significant results. The ability to identify specific biochemical targets in the complex media with which teeth come in constant contact in breath and saliva certainly brings new meaning to the words 'wisdom teeth'.



  1. Mannoor M S , Tao H , Jefferson D et al. Graphene-based wireless bacteria detection on tooth enamel. Nat Commun 2012; 3: 763. | Article | PubMed |

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