Will pregnant women getting a dental checkup--at their obstetrician’s office—actually help prevent severe tooth decay among young children?
Using artificial intelligence and digital technology, Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD, certainly thinks so. The Eastman Institute for Oral Health researcher has been awarded a grant to test the idea.
“Education and prevention are critical to resolving this significant public health problem,” said Dr. Xiao, EIOH associate professor and perinatal oral health expert, “and pregnancy is an ideal time to promote prevention given the profound influence of maternal oral health and behaviors on their children’s oral health.”
Severe tooth decay – or Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is one of the most common preventable diseases and is on the rise worldwide. It’s a complex problem that affects mainly children in underserved racial and ethnic minorities. Children with tooth decay experience great pain, impacting their ability to chew, sleep and learn. The harmful short- and long-term effects of ECC result in a substantial adverse impact on children, families, and healthcare systems.
Complex problems take innovative solutions. With collaboration throughout the University of Rochester, Dr. Xiao has been studying this issue for years. This project, SMARTeeth-Smart Connected Oral Health Community: Using AI and Digital Technologies to Close the Gaps in Oral Health Disparity, is the latest in her creative approach to tackling the problem at the root cause.
While at a routine obstetrician visit, a participating patient will have intra-oral photos taken, and install a smartphone app, AICaries, (developed by Dr. Xiao and her team) which can detect signs of tooth decay on herself or her other children. If she has dental pain or concerns, she can secure a virtual dental visit and then an appointment for treatment, if needed.
Education about the importance of oral hygiene for her and her children, as well as support and advocacy to eliminate other barriers to care such as transportation, will occur throughout the pregnancy. For example, good oral health during pregnancy impacts birth outcomes. Research shows that women with gum disease are at a higher risk to deliver low birth weight and pre-term babies.
The project, funded by the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Health Equity Program Support Office, aims to treat 1,000 patients throughout the year, thanks to collaborations with URMC obstetricians and a University of Rochester computer science data expert.
This is another example of Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s and Dr. Xiao’s commitment to reduce health disparities. In 2018, a Pregnancy and Infant Dental Clinic was established as part of EIOH’s Specialty Care Clinic. She was awarded a $3.5 million grant to conduct a first-ever study examining early-life biological factors related to severe tooth decay among underserved racial and ethnic minority groups, other grants to study the association between yeast and ECC onset, role of nutrition, and the smartphone app development.