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Mobile app helps triage dental emergencies

A smartphone app could help those with dental emergencies avoid unnecessary trips to the ER by enabling dentists to make clinical decisions despite not being able to conduct a physical examination.

Because patients often experience dental emergencies when dentist offices are closed, they are forced to seek relief at a hospital ER where they are simply treated for their pain. However, the DentaCom app allows individuals to communicate an emergency directly to a dentist, while potentially eliminating the need to visit an ER.

Developed and tested by the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry, the mobile app captures and transmits images from inside a patient’s mouth—along with details on the suspected dental emergency—providing the information to a dentist in order to determine the best course of treatment.

The app guides users through a series of questions a dentist would ask that are designed to solicit clinically meaningful data to assess the severity of the condition. In a study, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, researchers demonstrated that all 20 participants using the app were able to successfully complete a guided report on their dental emergency and take photos of the problem area of the mouth within four minutes.

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“Patient-provided information accompanied by high-resolution images may help dentists substantially in predicting urgency or preparing necessary treatment resources,” concludes the study. “The results illustrate the feasibility of patients using smartphone applications to report dental emergencies. This technology allows dentists to assess care remotely when direct patient contact is less practical.”

Regenstrief Institute investigator Thankam Thyvalikakath, who directs dental informatics at the Indiana University School of Dentistry and is senior author of the study, says that a participating dentist would receive a summary report from a patient that contains answers to the app’s questionnaire as well as images.

“Dental emergencies are among the top 10 reasons why people visit the ER,” contends Thyvalikakath. However, she believes the app could also be valuable in non-emergency situations for individuals needing routine dental care but who lack dental insurance or physical access to a dentist.

At the same time, Thyvalikakath asserts that the DentaCom app is only meant for “preliminary analysis” and should not be seen as a replacement for a face-to-face dental examination in a dentist’s office. She adds that the prototype app runs on an Android smartphone but the goal is to have it available on iOS mobile devices as well.

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