Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Virtual Dentistry Improving Care

Nearly 28 percent of California’s children have untreated tooth decay, according to a survey done in the state. Families with low incomes and people with complex medical conditions face considerable barriers to obtaining dental care and as a result, have significantly worse oral health than other segments of the population.

Now low income and adults at several California sites will be able to receive free dental care, thanks to a new telehealth project, referred to as the “Virtual Dental Home” created by the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Significant funding for this pilot project came from CHCF, the Verizon Foundation, Paradise Valley Community Health Fund of the San Diego Foundation, along with additional support from the California Dental Association Foundation.

The four year pilot project will expand and improve access to dental services by giving participating dentists the technological capability to review patients’ dental records remotely. Dental hygienists and dental assistants will be able to perform preventive and temporizing restorative treatments for patients in the community setting. Patients needing further treatment by a dentist will be provided assistance in getting to a dentist’s office or clinic for completion of needed treatment.

The project will eventually operate in nine community locations including schools, nursing homes, and Head Start centers in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Sacramento, and Northern California.

In other dental activities, virtual dentistry is being used to deliver education in the field. The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) has partnered with Columbia University to create Virtual Techniques in Dentistry” (VirTechs). This interactive web-based dental laboratory manual provides students with access to detailed instructions on procedures and treatments, video demonstrations, supplementary materials for learning, and dental procedures.

Firms known in the field of dentistry have been innovative in adapting virtual imaging to enable dentists to diagnose and provide treatment plans but especially to help dentists plan for accurate tooth implants. Specialized computer software enables implant surgeons to assess all of the critical areas of the maxillary and mandibular bone structures. The precision imaging helps doctors to not only determine the best possible implant sites but also permits the assessment of the need for bone augmentation that will optimize predictability ratios.

So with dentists working in the virtual world and utilizing dental technology, the entire process of assessment, treatment planning and the selection of implant devices and final restoration products is achieved “virtually” before treatment even begins with patients being able to accurately visualize the final outcome possibilities.