Researchers develop system for children’s oral health screening using smart devices
PERTH, Australia: Researchers in Australia have recently received government funding for a project that aims to develop a system that would allow parents to take photographs of their children’s teeth. The photographs would be taken using smart devices and sent to dental practitioners for evaluation. The novel system would improve access to routine dental care and reduce inappropriate or unnecessary referrals, thus helping to minimise travel and waiting times.*
The project is being conducted in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Telethon Kids Institute and is being led by a group of researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth. It is part of a line of ongoing research that has been looking at the application of consumer-level technology for facilitating access to dental care.
The 12-month project aims to develop a system for screening infants and children using smartphone images taken by untrained people. The images would be accessed by the dental team from their desktop and would help determine whether cases require a referral or can be delayed.
“The core of the teams’ 25 years of effort is to bring access to dental health to those at the marginal edges of society,” co-researcher Dr Marc Tennant, Winthrop Professor at the School of Human Sciences at the university, told Dental Tribune International. “This access is about many facets, including cost and social and geographic factors.”
“The project fits perfectly with our long-term mission. It looks to harnessing simple smartphone images to screen for dental health,” he continued.
Tennant explained that the present project focuses on the oral health of children, but that the wider programme includes adults. He also noted that it does not seek to replace professional dental examinations, but rather to provide screening and advice on oral health.
Discussing the challenges that the project poses, Tennant explained that the primary obstacle was people’s inertia to the idea, since many professionals are uncomfortable with change and innovation. “We have seen many, many terrific innovations take decades to happen through this inertia, and this has been one of them,” Tennant commented. “We see government services looking far more effectively at the opportunities that these innovations lead to. Many Australian governments have moved to telehealth models through the pandemic, and some are now taking the ideas of our project and implementing them.”
The project recently secured A$50,000 (€32,000) in state government funding. According to Tennant, it has received increasing interest during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.