Amid COVID-19, and other possible future infectious disease pandemics, dentistry needs to consider modified dental examination regimens that render quality care, are cost effective, and ensure the safety of patients and dental health care personnel (DHCP). Traditional dental examinations, which number more than 300 million per year in the United States, rely on person-to-person tactile examinations, pose challenges to infection control, and consume large quantities of advanced-level personal protective equipment (PPE). Therefore, our long-term goal is to develop an innovative mobile dentistry (mDent) model that takes these issues into account. This model supplements the traditional dental practice with virtual visits, supported by mobile devices such as mobile telephones, tablets, and wireless infrastructure. The mDent model leverages the advantages of digital mobile health (mHealth) tools such as intraoral cameras to deliver virtual oral examinations, treatment planning, and interactive oral health management, on a broad population basis. Conversion of the traditional dental examinations to mDent virtual examinations builds upon (1) the reliability of teledentistry, which uses intraoral photos and live videos to make diagnostic decisions, and (2) rapid advancement in mHealth tool utilization.
In this pilot project, we designed a 2-stage implementation study to assess 2 critical components of the mDent model: virtual hygiene examination (eHygiene) and patient self-taken intraoral photos (SELFIE). Our specific aims are to (1) assess the acceptance and barriers of mDent eHygiene among patients and DHCP, (2) assess the economic impact of mDent eHygiene, and (3) assess the patient’s capability to generate intraoral photos using mHealth tools (exploratory aim, SELFIE).
This study will access the rich resources of the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network to recruit 12 dentists, 12 hygienists, and 144 patients from 12 practices. For aims 1 and 2, we will use role-specific questionnaires to collect quantitative data on eHygiene acceptance and economic impact. The questionnaire components include participant characteristics, the System Usability Scale, a dentist-patient communication scale, practice operation cost, and patient opportunity cost. We will further conduct a series of iterative qualitative research activities using individual interviews to further elicit feedback and suggestion for changes to the mDent eHygiene model. For aim 3, we will use mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) to assess the patient’s capability of taking intraoral photos, by analyzing obtained photos and recorded videos.
The study is supported by the US National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. This study received “single” institutional review board approval in August 2021. Data collection and analysis are expected to conclude by December 2021 and March 2022, respectively.
The study results will inform the logistics of conducting virtual dental examinations and empowering patients with mHealth tools, providing better safety and preserving PPE amid the COVID-19 and possible future pandemics.