Smart mouthguard to tackle dental wear and tear

Mouthguard sends information on grinding to dentist and smartphone

Prof Brian O’Connell, director of prosthodontics at the Dublin Dental Hospital, Dr Ramesh Babu and Dr Padraig McAuliffe, prosthodontist and researcher at the Dublin Dental Hospital.

Prof Brian O’Connell, director of prosthodontics at the Dublin Dental Hospital, Dr Ramesh Babu and Dr Padraig McAuliffe, prosthodontist and researcher at the Dublin Dental Hospital.

 

A group of Irish researchers have invented an intelligent mouthguard that will determine whether you grind your teeth at night and will send that information to your dentist and your smartphone.

They estimate that up to half a million Irish people grind their teeth (bruxism), which can cause teeth to wear, crack or split. It can also damage crowns, veneers, implants and other expensive dental work.

“We developed it because there was a real need for a teeth grinding test. Bruxism can put up to 100kg of force onto the molars, which can do a huge amount of damage and cost thousands to repair,” said Dr Padraig McAuliffe, one of the researchers.

McAuliffe, along with Prof Brian O’Connell from the Dublin Dental Hospital and Dr Ramesh Babu and Dr James Doyle from AMBER, the scientific research and development centre at Trinity College Dublin, have launched the company SelfSense Technologies Ltd, a spin-out company from Trinity College.

The intelligent mouthguard is called SmartSplint. Up until now, Dr McAuliffe says, dentists have had no cost-effective, scientifically valid way to diagnose bruxism and manage it over time. He says tooth grinding is the third most common dental problem after gum disease and tooth decay, both of which have simple tests dentists can use.

“Dentists didn’t know the severity, where in the mouth the grinding was focused . . . If they made someone a mouthguard, they didn’t know whether the person was using it. It’s like trying to manage diabetes without a blood glucose test,” he said.

How it works SmartSplints will be customised to each patient’s teeth, and they will wear the splint at night as they would any mouthguard. The amount of time a patient will wear it depends on the type and severity of the problem.

Tiny sensors will record grinding data and send it to both an app and the dentist. The app will allow patients to monitor their grinding and, Dr McAuliffe says, perhaps manage their lifestyle (eg only wear the splint when the patient has a deadline). Dentists will interpret the results.

It will be marketed to dentists, but patients will pay for the device. While the price has not been set, Dr McAuliffe says competitive pricing is a priority so the product reaches as many people as possible.

Who will benefit? 

“With a normal splint, you’re supposed to use it indefinitely. With a smart splint, you wear it for the right amount of time. If it’s a short time, you have information to back it up. If it’s a long time, you see the real need to stay engaged,” said Dr McAuliffe, adding that more than half of people who have mouth splints stop wearing them within a year because they think they are not grinding their teeth.

“Because bruxism mainly occurs at night, many patients don’t realise they are grinding. Some don’t use the splints appropriately and tooth damage and long-term repair costs continue to mount.

“If there is evidence it’s doing some good, patients are more likely to wear it. If you have a SmartSplint, and you can see you were grinding on your molars, that information is available to you on your phone. You are much more likely to wear the mouthguard based on that information.”

It will help dentists manage patients with obvious damage. Dentists might also ask patients to wear the SmartSplint before costly dental work to help with treatment planning.

“Having that information is of concrete value for dentists. The data that comes back is of real benefit helping the person to get a better outcome for their dental treatment,” he said.

SelfSense Technologies

The company has €100,000 in investment from NDRC (National Digital Research Centre) and are taking part in its VentureLab programme for science and technology start-ups.

They licensed the sensor technology from Trinity College. It was developed with over €700,000 in grant funding from Enterprise Ireland, the Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board at Trinity College and the Dublin Dental Hospital.

McAuliffe says the company will be seeking investment within the next few months, and the SmartSplints will be available in Ireland towards the end of this year. They hope to launch the product internationally at some point next year.

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