Researchers have developed a mouthguard that can detect the early signs of tooth decay and periodontitis.

The device is made from a nanocomposite and reacts with the volatile sulphur compounds released by the bacteria that cause bad breath to highlight where dentists might need to make closer examinations.

According to the report by Chemistry World, Biomedical engineer Jianhua Zhou and colleagues at Sun Yat-sen University in China have developed a fluorescent mouthguard that, when worn for seven hours, stops fluorescing around sites where volatile sulphur compounds are being released. Made from a zinc oxide-poly(dimethlysiloxane) (ZnO-PDMS) nanocomposite, the mouthguard was shown in tests on human subjects to accurately flag sites of dental lesions.

‘The ZnO-PDMS mouthguard displays high stability, good biocompatibility, and low biological toxicity in normal physiological environments,’ Zhou says. ‘Due to its low cost, long-term stability, and good patient compliance, our wearable mouthguard is suitable for large-scale, preliminary screening of dental lesions prior to dental clinics and routine physical examinations.’

The team predict that a mass produced mouthguard might retail for as little as £2.40-£3.60. Being transparent, the guard – which is similar to those worn as protection during sports, or to mitigate teeth grinding at night – could be worn during the day or night, prior to a dental check-up.

Zhou and colleagues are now looking to prepare a series of the new mouthguards suitable for use by people of different ages – after which they plan to mass produce the mouthguards for large-scale screening. Alongside this, the team hope to develop other mouthguards which are able to help detect other diseases, both of the mouth but also of the respiratory and digestive systems.

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