Developing new dental devices for the elderly

An image of dentures, a wi-fi signal, and a smartphone.

Thirty years ago, Stephen Shuman never would have imagined he’d be working with aerospace engineers on oral health issues. Now, the associate professor in the School of Dentistry works with them on a regular basis, and he’s collaborating with the local aerospace research company ASTER Labs to create new dental devices to help the elderly maintain their oral health.

“One of the most frequent problems we see among older adults in long-term care settings is lost dentures,” says Shuman, a specialist in geriatric dentistry for over three decades. “Dentures are misplaced regularly, maybe lost in the sheets or wrapped up in napkins on meal trays and tossed away.”

The loss of dentures is both emotionally and financially draining—a set of complete dentures can cost $3,000 or more—and the problem is even more prevalent among cognitively-impaired seniors who are more prone to forget items.

Shuman and team are using ASTER’s GPS expertise to create a small, passive antenna to place inside a denture.

“If a GPS system can tell me that my car is close to an upcoming turn, why can’t it find a lost denture in a nursing home?” Shuman said.

The system would employ a cell phone app to activate the antenna and locate the lost dentures, and the app could be used by caregivers, nursing home staff, or others. It could also be applied to other items, like hearing aids, in the future.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities