New app provides remote dental emergency care

Photo credit: Getty/Robert Daly

A new smartphone app promises to spur faster dental care and possibly eliminate emergency hospital visits thanks to high image capture and data sharing capabilities.

The DentaCom app lets users snap photos of a dental issue and complete a series of questions which are shared real-time with a dentist for decision-making, according to research published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

“The results illustrate the feasibility of patients using smartphone applications to report dental emergencies," write the study's authors. "This technology allows dentists to assess care remotely when direct patient contact is less practical."

The research was led by senior author and dentist Thankam Thyvalikakath while at the University of Pittsburgh. The app idea originated with dental student Cory Stein after a personal dental emergency, and also was spurred by increasing emergency department visits for dental issues, Thyvalikakath told FierceMobileHealthcare via email.

“Tooth decay remains the most prevalent chronic disease, especially among children and adolescents," Thyvalikakath said. "Recently, emergency departments have experienced an increase in patient visits for dental emergencies, for which, patients often are provided only symptomatic treatment and referred to dentist for appropriate care."

That, he continued, results in unnecessary hospital costs while patients remain in discomfort for a longer time.

"The objective of this study was to determine the feasibility of prospective patients using a smartphone to gather information needed for dentists to make decisions when they are not able to examine them directly,” said Thyvalikakath, who is now at the Indiana University School of Dentistry and Regenstrief Institute.

The research fell mostly in line with the research team’s expectations except for one result.

“A surprise finding was the ease of using the application among individuals in any age group and with limited experience using a smartphone,” said Thyvalikakath, who believes the app may also prove more valuable in non-remote diagnostic situations when individuals need guidance and enhancing access to routine care.