Scientists at the University of Rochester Computer Science Department and Eastman Institute for Oral Health are developing a smartphone app that can detect tooth decay, and is now closer to reality thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“Severe tooth decay—or Early Childhood Caries—is one of the most common preventable diseases and is on the rise worldwide,” explained Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD, EIOH associate professor and one of the grant’s principal investigators. “It’s a complex problem that affects mainly children in underserved racial and ethnic minorities without access to dental care.”
As a result, children with tooth decay experience great pain, impacting their ability to chew, sleep and learn. The harmful short- and long-term effects often have a substantial adverse impact on children, families, and healthcare systems.
“When using the app, if decay is detected on mom, dad or the children, they can easily and quickly secure a virtual dental visit and then an appointment for treatment, if needed,” Dr. Xiao added.
The NSF grant, SMARTeeth – Smart Connected Oral Health Community: Using AI and Digital Technologies to Close the Gaps in Oral Health Disparity, allows the team to continue the development and testing of a low-income community serving infrastructure that combines use of artificial intelligence technology via smartphones with community engagement through interactive oral health community centers, mobile vans and community health workers.
“This study will evaluate the technology use and community engagement outcomes,” said Jiebo Luo, PhD.
professor, UR Computer Science, also a principal investigator and the Albert Arendt Hopeman Professor of Engineering. “Our goal is to meet the parents and children where they are, and to promote prevention, early detection and treatment.”
The primary goals of the three-year study are to create supportive environments outside the traditional dental care setting, empower community self-care by reorienting health services from curative to preventive, and to use AI technology to achieve population-wide dental screening and early detection, ultimately reducing the severity of tooth decay and dental disease-related emergencies.
During the three years, experts will continue to refine the technology, collect data, establish interactive oral health community centers, and develop methods to effectively reach, motivate and empower families to use the app, as well as measure and assess outcomes.
In addition to Drs. Luo and Xiao, other principal investigators include Michael Mendoza, MD, MPH, Monroe County’s Public Health commissioner, Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH, professor of Family Medicine, and Timothy Dye, PhD, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.