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Improving dental care for children in regional areas

Mihir Hargovan, Christine Welch, Maddison WelchThe GV Dental Service participated in a field trial this year to research the clinical and technological requirements needed for successful tele-dentistry consultations for children living in regional areas.

The study was conducted by research dentists from the Oral Health CRC at the University of Melbourne, the University’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society and dental specialists from the Royal Children’s Hospital.

A total of 43 patients, aged between two and 18 years, in Shepparton, Rosebud and Geelong, took part in the consultations with cleft lip and palate specialists and orthodontists.

Technology required for the field test included a computer with a substantial amount of memory, a web-camera, video conferencing software and specialist intraoral dental camera to capture images. The trial found that video streaming at a minimum of 3Mbit per second and internet bandwidth of 5Mbit per second gave clinicians sufficient video quality to interpret images.

Three general dental practitioners (from Shepparton, Rosebud and Geelong) were trained to use the tele-dentistry equipment. The general dental practitioners used their intraoral camera inside patients’ mouths, with specialists at the hospital and the Melbourne Dental School conducting virtual dental examinations. The general and specialist dentists then collaborated to develop a treatment plan for each patient.

Fifty-seven per cent of consultations resulted in avoiding travel to the Melbourne hospital. Half of the patients had a follow-up visit with the specialist up to 12 months later.

Local patient Christine Welch, said the remote dental examination was easier and more convenient than the alternative for her and daughter Maddison.

“By having a consultation with a general dentist at GV Dental Service in Shepparton, with a specialist dentist in Melbourne via video conference, we did not have to travel all the way to Melbourne; it saved us from time travelling, having to take a day off work and the expense of petrol and road tolls,” said Ms Welch.

GV Dental Service Clinical Director, Dr David Whelan, said this trial has demonstrated that tele-dentistry could be successful in improving access to specialist dental services.

“Tele-dentistry could make it more convenient for paediatric patients and their families in the Goulburn Valley to access specialist dental care close to home, without the need for expensive travel,” said Dr Whelan.

Additional tele-dentistry trials are being considered by the study team, with more advanced features and involving more dentists from a wider geographic area.