Young child showing her teeth

Could dentists check oral health over the phone?

3 July 2018
Smartphones could bridge the rural oral health gap
Researchers from the University of Sydney School of Dentistry are collaborating on a national project that will determine if it is clinically and cost effective to screen school children using a smartphone camera.

Dr Michelle Irving and Professor Heiko Spallek are collaborating with the team and CSIRO, in a cross-institutional project that builds on the preliminary research of Dr Irving and Dr Mohamed Estai (UWA). The project aims to create an evidence base for the effectiveness of mobile teledentistry in Australian schools.

Dr Irving and Professor Spallek will work with key e-health researchers from CSIRO to develop the technology to carry out remote dental screenings.

Using this technology, trained non-health professionals such as teachers will take dental photographs of children’s mouths using their smartphone cameras. These photos will then be evaluated by a dental practitioner at a distance.

The mobile teledentistry approach could offer an economic and reliable tool for early detection of dental diseases. This will be particularly valuable in rural and regional areas, where oral health practitioners are often overworked and under-resourced.

It uses resources that are already routinely available in schools – mobile networks and internet are available, smartphones are carried everywhere, and many Australian schools are equipped with dental care facilities.

By targeting the oral health of school children, the project could have a significant impact on the overall oral health of Australians.

“Healthy behaviours established in early life are often carried into adulthood,” says Dr Irving. “Therefore, improving oral health in childhood is fundamental for reducing dental caries, early tooth loss and other oral diseases in adulthood.”

The project received $160,000 grant funding from the Financial Markets Foundation for Children.

“This grant is a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives in increasing access to dental care regardless of their location,” says Dr Irving.

“I am thrilled to be working with a wonderful team with such a diverse range of experience. This will be the first time, personally, that I will be collaborating with CSIRO scientists and I look forward to building on this collaboration in the future.”

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