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Tooth decay diagnosis could go online

Dental diagnosis by digital photography and the Internet? We're not quite there yet, but experts say the use of inexpensive technology could help screen for certain common conditions.

Early childhood dental caries (ECC) is one disease common among inner city toddlers that researchers are developing ways to diagnose using a specially outfitted digital camera.

Early childhood caries, also known as baby bottle tooth decay, is caused by prolonged exposure to sweetened fluids, often from sleeping with a bottle, and may be overlooked by parents until the child's pain is severe and teeth have become irreparably decayed. Many times the only treatment available at that point is sedation of the child and extraction of the teeth.

Dental researchers say a child care center health assistant could take photos of children's teeth and send them electronically across town to a pediatric dentist who reviews the files in batches and identifies those with ECC.

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York piloted a system for diagnoses via digital photography and found that nearly 40 percent of 162 toddlers were suffering from ECC. Most had about two cavities, but one had as many as 20 decayed teeth.

Such technology may also decrease expenses related to ECC. In Rochester alone, treatment of early childhood caries is estimated at $1 million annually ‖ paid almost exclusively by Medicaid.

"We have identified a very simple, cost-effective method to screen for this common childhood disease before it becomes a much larger problem," said Dr. Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski, assistant professor of dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and the study's author. "By catching ECC at its earliest stage, we will effectively save the patient and parent toothache and heartache, decrease use of emergency room services, and increase the usage of dentists by this underserved population."

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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