Access to specialist dental care services in rural, remote and outer suburban areas can be significantly improved through tele-dentistry by removing the need to travel to specialists, a trial in Victoria has shown.
A field trial with three Victorian general dental practitioners in Rosebud, Shepparton and Geelong, conducted by the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre of the University of Melbourne's Dental School and the Institute for a Broadband Enabled Society, featured 43 patients aged between two and 18.
They were given tele-dentistry consultations with specialists and orthodontists at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, at their local dentists' office, without having to take time off to make the long trip into the city.
Beyond improving access to dental health services in outlying areas, the authors of the tele-dentistry field trial paper said the concept can address what they say is a chronic dental workforce shortage.
The local dentists used a computer or tablet running Citrix GoToMeeting software, which has enough processing power to handle real-time video rendering, and an intra-oral camera made by Sopro Life for the examinations.
The tele-dentistry consultations' compressed 25 frames per second MPEG4 video stream requires internet connections of at least three megabits per second data transfer rate.
The paper noted 3Mbps was the minimum data speed required to provide sufficient image quality for clinicians to interpret the transmitted images received, and to remove camera motion blur, but said 5Mbps was preferable.
In cases where network connections cannot provide the necessary bandwidth, the paper suggested using store-and-forward or recording to a file to send data to specialists for later review.
This can be just as effective as real-time presenting of cases, the trial showed.
Tele-dentistry setup in dental clinic with a camera, computer and internet connection. Source: IBES
A spokesperson for Google confirmed that the trial was funded by the global web services giant but was unable to provide further detail on its involvement in the project.
There is currently no active public or private tele-dentistry service in Australia. The authors said they hope the Victorian field trial will form the basis of a fully-funded such service.