Many people wear devices that track their activity levels, sleep, and heart rate. The theory is that people can use the data to change their behaviors to be healthier, though the jury is still out on that. Now a new technology is coming out that is so small it can be stuck to teeth and report on any chemicals it comes in contact with. In other words, the device can track what you eat, drink or smoke.

Scientists at Tufts University School of Engineering have developed miniaturized sensors that could be stuck to a tooth and wirelessly send data about what you consume to a mobile device. It can report on your intake of salt, sugar, and alcohol.

The flexible sensor is only 2 millimeters square, and it can bond to the uneven surface of a tooth. The sensor acts much like the highway toll collection devices that transmit their data in response to a radio-frequency signal. The new sensors are made up of three layers. The two outer layers consist of two square shaped rings of gold. The one in the middle is bio-responsive, and it absorbs or reacts to nutrients and chemicals. Together, these three layers function like a tiny antenna that collects and transmits radio-frequencies. When the sensor is exposed to salt or other nutrients, its electrical properties change to reflect or absorb different radio-frequencies that identify and measure the substances, then send the information to your phone. If that sounds like science fiction, that fiction is here now.

Future sensors could detect more nutrients and chemicals and detect physiological states like your blood sugar levels or fatigue, and they can be made to stick to skin and other surfaces. We can imagine so many uses for these sensors. They could be designed to detect something like peanut products for people with severe allergies. A person could receive a real-time warning if what they eat has peanuts in it so they have time to prevent an allergic reaction or get medical help. Sensors could be designed to monitor dental health. We could have a sensor that detects how many alcoholic drinks you have had or how much marijuana you have smoked, and relays that information to your car to prevent impaired driving. Though these scenarios are positive uses for the technology, we are just beginning to realize how our personal information is collected and used by social media, our phones, and activity trackers.

We hope that the inventors of these devices also consider the security of the information and what can be done with it. As we have discovered, lawmakers are far behind in regulating what can be done with our personal information and preventing bad actors from stealing it. There could also be privacy issues. What if your nutritional intake is reported to your physician automatically? Will an insurance company change your rates if you eat too many donuts?

So scientists have invented bling that has the potential to monitor everything that you eat or drink or smoke. Would you use it?

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at

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