According to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, a Haverford, Pa, start-up called Small Bite Inc is marketing a new weapon in the war on obesity. The company makes a device that fits in the mouth and restricts jaw movement, causing wearers to take smaller bites and consume less food, thus losing weight. It is intended to be used for 6 to 9 months.

Small Bite’s orthodontic device has been tested on 50 patients in Europe. The company is talking with the FDA about starting patient clinical trials early next year in Philadelphia.

Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which allocates state funds to promising early-stage technology, has invested $300,000 in Small Bite. "We approved it based on the idea that this probably did fill a niche in obesity treatment," said Jennifer Hartt, Ben Franklin’s director of life sciences investments.

"Food intake starts at the mouth. We thought, ‘What can we do about it?’ " said Small Bite’s co-founder and CEO, Denis Mulder. "You can eat anything, but you have to cut everything in very small pieces," said Mulder, who is in preliminary discussions with weight experts at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania about conducting the patient studies in Philadelphia.

He also has talked with the community clinic at Albert Einstein Medical Center in North Philadelphia.

The idea for the device came from Jan Renders, a 330-pound patient in Amsterdam who said he had been overweight all his life and had tried many diets. Renders could have opted to have his jaw wired shut in order to shed pounds, but, as a singer in a band, he wanted to be able to open his mouth to sing.

He had an idea of attaching elastics to his upper and lower molar teeth that restricted how wide he could open his mouth. Renders approached Amsterdam orthodontist Rene Linders, and they designed a device, made from dental polymer and attached with orthodontic adhesive to the upper and lower molars. The polymer strands are connected to a chain that rests against the lower front gum.

If the mouth opens too wide, the chain presses against the lower gum, "which is unpleasant, so you don’t do it," Renders said. The device does not put pressure on the teeth or jaw.

After 9 months wearing it, Renders said he had lost 130 pounds, going from 330 pounds to 200, a weight that he maintains today. "This device is not a holy thing," he said. "If you have the will—the wish—to lose weight and you cannot do it yourself, it’s a wonderful help."