An artificial tongue, capable of detecting and distinguishing among different varieties of dental bacterial and subsequently deactivating those bacteria has been developed by a team of researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Designed to treat and manage dental diseases, the artificial tongue is based on a chemical sensor array that features a combination of several sensors. When the artificial tongue is introduced to different bacteria within a sample, each sensor on the fake tongue will reportedly offer a unique response.

The researchers explained that they can analyze the combined response patterns from all the sensors on the artificial tongue, thereby making it possible to distinguish among and to identify the various analytes present in the sample — even if they possess similar chemical structures.

Traditionally, dentists grow bacteria in the lab or look for particular indicators in the mouth to determine if bacteria are the source of dental problems like cavities or gum disease. However, these approaches can be time-consuming and costly.

As such, the team used the sensor array to identify the different types of bacteria simultaneously and also set out to determine if the artificial tongue could be used to kill the bacteria the tongue identified.

To accomplish this, the researchers used particles called nanozymes, which behave like natural enzymes and coated them with DNA. Once a special type of liquid along with a color-changing dye were added, the nanozymes turned the liquid bright blue.

Yet, the team discovered during testing that if the bacteria stuck to the DNA coating on the nanozymes, the liquid didn’t turn as blue. However, coating the nanozymes with various types of DNA reportedly caused each of the individual types of bacteria to change to a different color.

In the lab, the artificial tongue system was tested on samples featuring 11 types of bacteria found in the mouth. The team reported that the system even worked in saliva samples and they also noted that they could determine if a plaque sample came from a subject with dental problems or someone with healthy teeth.

Further, the addition of nanozymes to solutions featuring bacteria reportedly deactivated three common bacterium types. Use of a powerful microscope revealed that the nanozymes damaged the outer layers of those bacteria.

For now, the team is working to solve how the artificial tongue might be deployed within the mouth.

The study, "Enhanced 'Electronic Tongue' for Dental Bacterial Discrimination and Elimination Based on a DNA-Encoded Nanozyme Sensor Array," appears in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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