Dentistry researchers led by professor Shogo Minagi from Okayama University in Japan, have invented the world’s first artificial tongue prosthesis.
Professor Minagi and his team have developed a prosthesis that’s made of resin and connected to a person’s back teeth by a wire. The research team has used materials that are already widely used so that any dental technician can make this type of prosthesis without any difficulties.
Minagi claims that patients can control the artificial tongue by pushing it with the remaining base of their tongue, thus, allowing patients move the tongue up and down to touch the palate (part of the oral cavity required to speak).
This breakthrough is crucial for people whose tongues have partially been removed due to oral cancer or car accidents and other injuries that affected their ability to speak.
Minagi’s work was inspired by Kenichi Kozaki, a dentistry professor and an expert on dental pharmacology at the Okayama University after he’s being diagnosed with tongue cancer. As a result of this cancer, most of his tongue, jaw bones and pharynx were removed, and he lost the ability to speak.
“We could create a really good prosthesis quickly thanks to Kozaki, who is a dentist himself. He tried many different versions of the prosthesis and offered us detailed feedback,” said Minagi, who also hopes that this invention will be widely used in oral cancer treatment.
In September, Okayama University established an outpatient clinic called Yume no Kaiwa Purojekuto Gairai (Outpatient Clinic to Achieve the Dream of Speaking Project).
According to Minagi, at least, four people are currently having artificial tongues made through the clinic.
Oral cancer is a cancer that develops in the tissues of the mouth or throat. There are several types of oral cancers, but around 90 per cent are the squamous cell carcinomas, which are found in mouth, tongue and lips.
It’s only discovered when the cancer has metastasized to another location, in most cases the lymph nodes of the neck. This cancer is particularly dangerous because it may not be noticed by the patient in its early stages, as it can progress without producing any symptoms or pain.
Approximately more than 54,000 people have been diagnosed with the oral cancer in 2015, and it causes 13,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Herewith, the worldwide cases of oral cancers are much greater, with over 450,000 new cases recorded each year. Yet the statistics are not accurate due to the poor healthcare system in the least developed countries.
Roughly $3.2 billion is spent in the U.S. each year on the treatment of head and neck cancers.