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New Weight Loss Device Locks Jaw into Place, But Is It Ethical?

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1.9 billion adults all over the world struggle with obesity. It’s a major health crisis that can be prevented, but getting people to lose weight and keep it off can be a challenge.

A new intraoral device known as the DentalSlim Diet Control aims to do just that, but critics say it’s more like a “torture” device than anything else.

Locking Down the Jaw

A new study in Nature magazine shows just how effective this new product can be when it comes to helping people shed excess weight. It’s being billed as the “world-first weight-loss device to help fight the global obesity epidemic.” 

A dentist must attach the device to the person’s front and lower back teeth. It uses closed-field magnets with restrictions for how far the person can open their mouth, usually just a 1/16th of an inch, forcing them to go on an all-liquid diet. The device won’t restrict the person’s breathing or talking. It also comes with silicone-based cheek protectors, which prevent any friction against the cheeks.

Researchers in New Zealand recruited seven obese individuals. They were given a commercially available liquid for two weeks. They analyzed the participants’ comfort and tolerance for the device using quality-of-life questionnaires, which were administered at 1, 7 and 14 days during the trial, and then again two weeks after the device was removed.

Professor Paul Brunton, pro-vice-chancellor at the New Zealand University of Otago’s Division of Health Sciences, said, “It is a non-invasive, reversible, economical and attractive alternative to surgical procedures,” during a recent press release.

After the two weeks, researchers say participants were able to shed 5.1% of their total body weight, losing on average 14 pounds. Researchers also claim that these individuals “were motivated to continue with their weight loss journey after wearing the device.

However, participants also said they felt discomfort or that life was generally less satisfying. Some had trouble pronouncing certain words, but they felt tense or embarrassed “only occasionally”. The participants “hardly ever” reported a change in taste sensation or felt uncomfortable drinking. In the end, researchers claim they were happy with the results.

“Overall, people felt better about themselves, they had more confidence and they were committed to their weight-loss journey,” Brunton added.

The device can also be removed using a special tool if the person feels comfortable or wants to engage in a cheat night. Ultimately, it’s up to them how often they want to wear the DentalSlim Diet Control. Some participants felt better keeping the emergency release tool on them at all times in case of choking or an emergency.

Participants were also instructed on how to maintain proper oral hygiene. They were given commercially available mouthwash.

Researchers added that it’s “particularly helpful for those having to lose weight before they can undergo surgery, and for diabetes patients for whom weight loss could initiate remission,” the press release continues.

Backlash Erupts

Researchers from the University of Otago shared the study on Twitter, but they didn’t get the reaction they were hoping for.

Molecular biologist Raven Baxter probably had the most memorable response, writing, “Delete this. Delete the research team. Delete everything.”

Another user jumped in with, “And this, kids, is why ethics needs to be taught in science. Good God, I thought medicine was past these kinds of torture devices.”

A mom on the platform pointed out, “Not to be gross here but if someone vomits while wearing this they will choke to death or aspirate. Also bad for dental hygiene. Can’t brush properly or floss. Bad idea all around.”

“This is a torture device, and you should be embarrassed to be promoting it, let alone to be associated with it,” said another user.

“The thought of having a bout of coughing or even sneezing with this on seems pretty horrible. What happens to yawns?” someone asked.

Brunton responded to the criticism by saying that the device is not meant to be a cure-all when it comes to obesity, but rather a “phased approach to weight loss supported by advice from a dietician allowing long-term weight loss goals to be realized.”

As painful or embarrassing as this device may be for some people, the participants said their weight often leads to public distress. Some may rather wear the DentalSlim than go on worrying about their size or feeling self-conscious in public settings.

Regardless of how you feel about this new device, it might be some people’s best hope of leading a healthy lifestyle. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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