Dental screening study for preschoolers may help teeth to stay healthy during pandemic
A collaborative study being carried out by researchers from The University of Western Australia, Telethon Kids Institute and Joondalup Health Campus may help preschool aged children to stay healthy and well despite the challenges of face-to-face visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study is exploring outcomes from the introduction of an app that takes photographs of young children’s teeth and allows remote screening by dental professionals. The Dental Screening Study is a part of the ORIGINS Project, which is following 10,000 families across a decade to improve child and adult health.
Led by Dr Somayyeh Azimi and Dr Jilen Patel and the CSIRO’s Australian eHealth Research Centre, represented by Dr Mohamed Estai, the app and study aim to tackle tooth decay, which remains one of the most common diseases in young children.
40 per cent of preschoolers experience dental disease, Dr Patel said, with common causes including sugary drinks and snacks and poor oral hygiene.
Limited oral health literacy and access to care can also have an impact. Often the first signs of disease go undetected and, when left unmanaged, can lead to pain and infection and adverse impacts on nutrition, schooling and sleep.
For the research, Dr Patel and his colleagues are working with a cohort of three-year-olds and their parents, who are taking still images of their child’s mouth with their smartphones, using the Tele-dental app developed by the CSIRO ehealth Research Centre.
“The photos are then sent to a secure online server where a dental practitioner can evaluate the images in near real-time and advise on any necessary treatment and care pathways, all while the child is in the comfort of their own home,” Dr Patel said.
The feasibility, sensitivity and specificity of the app in comparison to conventional clinical examination will be investigated as part of the research which will also include feedback from parents.
“It’s non-invasive and potentially less stressful for young children and could be used as part of tele-health, in the same way that people see their GP over a phone or video call, as a way to support parents in remote or rural areas or for those who find it difficult to access care,” he said.