Virtual Dentistry And The Culture Of Technological Control

Virtual Dentistry And The Culture Of Technological Control

Virtual Dentistry And The Culture Of Technological Control


A dentist using a tablet integrated with on-site dental equipment showing a dental x-ray on a tablet. Photo credit: Getty

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As a parent of two small children, getting them into brushing is not as easy as I would have thought. Kids love water, mirrors, and playing, but somehow getting my three-year-old into brushing his teeth is no easy feat. Then I read about Kitten Planet’s Brush Monster, an app that teaches children how to brush their teeth. Through augmented reality and a smart toothbrush, parents are able to monitor how well their children are brushing their teeth.  While this might appeal to many parents who wish to have verifiable information that their children will grow into adulthood with all 32 teeth, it troubled me as a child of a periodontist who was taught about healthy teeth and gums that perhaps this finite control over children’s brushing patterns, all recorded virtually for parents to later check, was a step too far.

The lessons imparted by parents to children such as dental hygiene are important parts of lifelong habits that children do not appreciate until grown adults. Yet, this particular type of app could be seen as excessive, even attempting to substitute the necessary parental lectures on dental hygiene and time spent together every day at the bathroom sink. Are apps replacing the real-life experiences we share with our children? And are we surrendering our efforts to teach our children the lifelong tools of good hygiene with technology?

It is undeniable that virtual dentistry is quite successful for professional uses, such as the various apps that assess dental esthetics. Yet, it seems that we ought to scrutinize how health apps can dangerously tread upon the necessary social space of real-life lessons that parents need to be a participant in. Recent data suggests that children are forgetting to regularly brush their teeth and that 50 percent of parents are not actively engaged in showing their children proper toothbrushing habits. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) states that “dental caries in the baby teeth of children from 2 to 11 declined from the early 1970s until the mid-1990s. From the mid-1990s until the most recent (1999-2004) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, this trend has reversed: a small but significant increase in primary decay was found.”

New technology has become so good in dealing with healthcare and dentistry, that dentists are now using a number of apps within their practices. Dental Manager allows dentists to organize treatment plans for patients which they later send to your patients and this app allows dentists and patients to coordinate future appointments and follow-up care. Happy Space’s DCStory allows dentists to explain complex clinical information to patients in a simple-to-understand format through 3D images along with the ability to transmit treatment plans and provide educational counseling. This app allows patients to better understand their treatment as well as automatically receiving data input from doctors.

There are also apps which go into diagnostics such as Toothpic which relies on disruptive technology to increase a consumer’s access to dental care. With this app, those who were unable to afford dental care can have a cheaper consultation with a virtual dentist within their region for a precise diagnosis based on primarily Q&A and photos before an in-office visit with a specialist dentist. Dentists even have a social networking app, Denti-Pro, which allows them to network and receive informative content on their profession which they can bring into their practice and other secondary apps like Brand Monitor which keeps tabs on company brands and affiliated trademarks.

While these professional apps have proven advantageous for dentists professionally, there are questions remaining for the patient-focused apps that would have us believe that we can improve our children’s dental habits through technological hyper-vigilance over the day-to-day repetition of the family brushing their teeth together and perhaps having fun in the process. Does this mean that there are no good dental apps for children which might less severe than the CSI-like apps?

There are many fun apps for kids that play music for them while they brush in order to ensure they are at least brushing for a full two minutes. Still, dentists encourage the age-old techniques of getting kids to brush their teeth that range from having them choose their own toothbrush and toothpaste to playing games while brushing their teeth. While a music app can work in a pinch, technology which records the brush strokes of children seems a step too far in a world where control is often implemented in place of social encounters and exchanges. After all, the cultural values of learning are taking place through direct human contact, especially for young lives. We need to weigh the value of our social and personal selves before surrendering this part of our culture to technology.

The reality today is that while we might wish to culturally embrace technology within our professional lives, we might use caution when involving technology as a surrogate to interpersonal communications. When it comes to daily dental habits and teaching young children how to develop healthy dental hygiene, there is simply no replacement for the family spending time together around the sink.



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