Thanks to new federal funding and support from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, the University of Rochester’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health is teaming up with other UR experts to build a smartphone app to detect severe tooth decay, the most chronic childhood disease that disproportionately afflicts vulnerable parts of the population.
“It is critical that all New Yorkers have access to quality health and dental care,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who announced the grant on his website. “U of R’s research and groundbreaking technology to make dental care more accessible and affordable will greatly improve the health of New York’s residents. Each year, tens of millions of Americans go without the dental care they need, and it is investments like this that will make a meaningful difference in the lives of New Yorkers. I will continue to fight to ensure that all New Yorkers get the care they need.”
“Access to dental care continues to be out of reach for too many children,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “The University of Rochester’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health is committed to making dental care available to underserved communities and does incredible work developing innovative solutions to advance oral health. This funding will help deliver life-changing technology that could make premiere dental care a reality for children in every community.”
The harmful short and long term effects of early childhood caries (ECC) result in a substantial adverse impact on children, families, and healthcare systems.
“By the time children with severe tooth decay see a dentist, treatment primarily focuses on extensive restorative procedures,” explained Jin Xiao, DDS, PhD, EIOH associate professor and perinatal oral health expert. “But if detected and addressed in its early stages, it can be reversed.
Principal Investigators Dr. Xiao, Kevin Fiscella, MD, MPH, professor of Family Medicine, and Jiebo Luo, PhD, professor of Computer Science, are working with other URMC specialists in maternal and child health care, patient education and community engagement. The team built a prototype of the app, AICaries, last year, to detect tooth decay in its early reversible stage.
“With more than 85% of lower-income Americans owning a smartphone, mHealth tools hold great promise to achieve patient-driven early detection and lower the risk of severe tooth decay,” said Dr. Fiscella, whose work focuses on disparity and mHealth research.
“Using artificial intelligence (AI) to aid imaging recognition has been applied to improve disease diagnosis in many medical fields,” said Dr. Luo. “However, modern dentistry has not employed AI imaging technology for caries detection outside clinic through widely accessible smartphones. To our knowledge, AICaries will be a first ever, truly novel application of using this technology in dentistry.”
“Our 100-year history of clinical treatment and research on behalf of these young patients, along with the partnership of other University of Rochester experts have resulted in these innovative, technology-driven strategies for early detection and prevention,” said Eli Eliav, DMD, PhD, director of Eastman Institute for Oral Health. “We’re pleased the Department of Health and Human Services is partnering with us for this first important step and thank Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand for their continued support.”
The two-year grant supports EIOH’s ongoing efforts to reduce severe tooth decay among children in underserved communities through prevention and education, and is funded by the National Institutes for Health’s Department of Health and Human Services.These funds will finalize the app’s prototype, complete development and work to improve its performance via ongoing feedback from a community-based user group.
With the app installed on their phone, a parent or caregiver can take a photo of a child’s tooth and the app will inform them if the tooth has decay. The app will then guide users to an interactive educational component, to help them better understand ways to prevent further decay through diet and oral hygiene.
“The app also provides information about available dentists, locations and insurance,” Dr. Xiao added. “Our goal is to partner with other providers like pediatricians who can also use this app to catch oral disease in its early stages.”
Other URMC team members and community partners working on this project include Tim Dye, PhD, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Tong Tong Wu, PhD, associate professor of Biostatistics and Computational Biology, Oriana Ly-Mapes, DDS, EIOH assistant professor, and Sherita Bullock, executive director of Healthy Baby Network.