When it comes to wearable tech, there are many devices out there that can help you with weight loss, sleep, and other aspects of your health, but not much that is designed to watch out for your oral health. Now, a new development from the University of Buffalo might help fill that gap, although, admittedly, it’s only by extension from a weight loss technology.
It Hears You When You’re Eating
The new technology is a necklace that’s designed to hear you chewing and swallowing your food. In the words of one of the researchers, “Each food, as it’s chewed, has its own voice.” And the device is being taught to recognize those voices so it can record what the wearer is eating.
The thought is that this will be a substitute for diet apps currently on the market that require users to input foods by typing them or speaking them. This recording process can be tedious and is prone to errors, especially of omission as people forget to record some of the foods they eat. But if a wearable device was always present it could record all the food sounds and never miss an instance of eating. It could also more accurately record portion sizes of food actually consumed, because it could tell not just how many bites you took, but whether those bites were average size, large, or small.
The technology is promising. In appearance, it’s similar to a choker that places a small microphone, about the size of a zipper pull, up against the throat. In a study of its effectiveness, 12 test subjects, male and female, consumed water and a variety of foods: apples, carrots, potato chips, cookies, peanuts, and walnuts. The device was able to identify the correct food 85% of the time. Given the difference in the foods, that seems a little low, but it’s a good start.
The researcher acknowledges that there are some serious obstacles to making the system accurate enough. For example, the system can’t really differentiate between foods like corn flakes and frosted flakes, which have serious differences in calories (not to mention sugar content!). It seems that drinks would also be very difficult to differentiate. And complex foods like soups might be difficult to track accurately, but this is always difficult with diet tracking apps.
How the Device Could Help Your Oral Health
Probably the most valuable aspect of this device for your oral health is that it would always be in place and therefore would be able to identify snacking or grazing behavior. For your oral health, the timing of eating is as important as what you eat–the more small snacks or meals you have, the worse, especially if you are having sugary, acidic, or carb-loaded snacks. It could be programmed to remind or discourage snacking. If it got good at recognizing closely related items, it might even recommend diet swaps to protect your teeth. It would also recognize purging behaviors related to bulimia.
If the device gets better at recognizing chewing techniques, it might help identify bite and jaw problems like TMJ. And if it were worn while sleeping, it could help diagnose sleep apnea or narrow down the potential causes for snoring.
Before this device becomes available, we have to rely on you to report and control behaviors that can contribute to poor oral health. Make notes to bring to your regular dental checkups and we can help you change your eating habits to help keep your teeth healthy.