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Tooth tattoos of the future may be more than a pretty face

Nov 26, 2012

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Kids, parents and even grandparents ink their bodies now like NASCAR racing attire. Never mind that as the skin sags and wrinkles encroach many of those tattoos flaunted today will look like impressionistic paintings tomorrow.

I’m personally holding out getting a tattoo until they develop one that gives me six-pack abs or lowers my golf handicap.  But I digress…

The tattoos we’re discussing today are tooth tattoos. No, I’m not making this up.

To be clear, tooth tattoos are not new. There are already tooth tattoos ranging from sports teams to cartoon characters to celebrities, but those tattoos are personal expressions of one’s individuality, much like skin tattoos. That is, except for those skin tattoos meant to show camaraderie and togetherness, like a guy whose tat says, “I’m with stupid” with an arrow pointing to his left but his wife is standing on his right with the same message and a tattooed arrow pointing to her right.

The “personal expression” tooth tats, or “white collar” tattoos, are painted images that are available for viewing at the discretion of the wearer. It is not unusual for a tooth tat wearer to share their tat trophy by coyly pulling their cheek out if it's on a back tooth or crown. 

Yes, nothing says discreet like a tooth tat wearer sticking their finger in their mouth and sharing the little surprise found in their oral cavity.  If discretion isn't a big deal though, you may be treated to a smile within a smile if the tattooed have had their front teeth made over and a little porcelain David Letterman is grinning back at you.

But the tooth tattoos in development are different. They are futuristic tattoos that will serve a greater good than the skin tattoos viewable nightly on dozens of limbs and appendages at your local Wal-Mart.

Researchers at two universities are experimenting with technological applications for tooth tattoos. Early reports say their prototype may someday help dentists and doctors measure bacteria levels in the mouth. This would help in identifying gum disease, cavities, and even Type II Diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

But how could a tattoo measure bacteria levels? If you had extrasensory perception you may have said “sensors.”

Princeton and Tufts University researchers are working with sensors made of a thin layer of gold, a thin layer of grapheme and peptide, and a layer of silk that supports the structure. Reports say the silk dissolves after the tattoo is pressed onto the tooth surface.

In other words, this isn’t the type of tattoo that you get at your local tat parlor that promises to correct misspellings for free or sells Piercing for Dummies books in the back office.

“A sensor like this could give you a panoramic view of what’s happening over a number of hours or even days,” says Gerard Kugel, Associate Dean for Research at Tufts School of Dental Medicine. “If you could tell what bacteria levels are spiking, you could shape your course of treatment.”

The Princeton and Tufts prototype prototype includes a receiver outside the mouth that continuously pings the sensor. The pings power the sensor and enable it to send data back to the receiver. The types of oral bacteria or lack of bacteria clinging to the tooth sensor are then transmitted back to the receiver.

Before you contact your dentist or visit Radio Shack inquiring about sensors and receivers and oral roofer woofers, keep in mind that the new technology is still in development and is not yet available.

Currently the testing prototype is roughly half the size of a postage stamp and as wide as a sheet of paper. That size may be fine with the cows being used as guinea pigs, but admittedly the prototype is too big for human teeth - unless you have chompers like Tom Cruise or Angela Jolie.

The trials on cow teeth have provided promising results, or at least researchers have reported no raucous bovine booing and mooing.

Researchers say more tests must be conducted to see if this technology is feasible for humans, so don’t plan on scheduling a dental visit before the holidays to be fitted with a Bono image that measures oral bacteria and allows you to download music that plays through your bicuspids. 

Oh well, maybe next Christmas.

Thanks for reading Agent Straight-Talk, and riddle me this: To smile or not to smile. Is that the question, or is smiling the answer?  

Email me at:

Find me on Twitter at Twitter@ToothTeller or like us on Facebook at 

Copyright 2012, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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