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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / March 2021 / UR CTSI Funding Leads to New Grant for Childhood Tooth Decay Prevention App

UR CTSI Funding Leads to New Grant for Childhood Tooth Decay Prevention App

Mom and daughter looking at phoneA group of researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are developing a smartphone app to help parents detect severe tooth decay in their kids with the help of a new NIH grant. The app will make dental care more accessible to children in under-resourced communities, who are disproportionately affected by this chronic childhood disease.  

Leveraging smartphones to reach communities that are typically low-income may not feel intuitive, but the idea came directly from members of those communities.

Because poor prenatal oral health has been linked to poor birth outcomes and higher risk for tooth decay in children, a group of URMC researchers and community partners gathered input from low-income moms in Rochester, NY on barriers they faced to prenatal dental health. The focus groups and in-depth interviews were part of a UR CTSI-funded Community-Based Participatory Research Pipeline-to-Pilot Award led by Jin Xiao, DDS, Ph.D., associate professor of Dentistry at URMC, Kevin Fiscella, M.D., MPH, professor of Family Medicine at URMC, and Sherita Bullock, executive director of the Healthy Baby Network.

The women’s suggestions boiled down to four actionable recommendations, which were published in BMC Oral Health in the fall of 2020.  The women recommended using social media or smartphone apps to educate and improve access to prenatal dental health, interweaving dental care into all healthcare, and creating innovative education programs and specialized prenatal dental facilities for underserved communities.

“The UR CTSI award fostered our ideas of using cutting-edge translational research to address poor maternal and infant oral health among underserved groups,” said Xiao who is leading the new smartphone app project with Fiscella and Jiebo Luo, Ph.D., professor of Computer Science and expert in artificial intelligence.

The team built a prototype of the app, AICaries, last year, to detect tooth decay in its early reversible stage. Parents or caregivers can take a photo of a child’s tooth in the app and it will inform them if the tooth has decay. The app will then guide them to an interactive educational component to help them understand ways to prevent further decay through diet and oral hygiene and will provide information on local available dentists and insurance.

Learn more about the current smartphone app project in the URMC Newsroom.


The projects described above were supported by the University of Rochester CTSA award number UL1 TR002001 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health through the UR CTSI’s Community-Based Participatory Research Pipeline-to-Pilot Award. This award provides up to $15,000 for collaborative research projects that address local health issues using a community-based participatory research approach.

Michael Hazard | 3/23/2021

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