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Digital camera aims at baby tooth decay

If you've never seen anything wrong with handing your toddler endless bottles of grape juice, you could eventually find your child with Early Childhood Caries (ECC), a kind of tooth decay found on baby teeth. The cavities are caused by prolonged exposure to sweetened juices and tend to be overlooked by parents until the pain becomes so severe that the only option for the toddlers--often under the age of 4--is sedation and extraction.

Good thing technology can come to the rescue (again).

A specially outfitted digital camera can now be used to take pictures of a toddler's teeth at regular dental checkups in large cities, with the pictures being sent to professional pediatric dentists across town. The pictures are evaluated based on a number of symptoms, and if the child has a chance of contracting ECC...well, then, at least parents get the heads up, and preemptive measures can be taken by dentists rather than in the emergency room.

ECC is common among children who grow up in inner cities, where dental health care is not usually a priority. For this reason, for a study on the cameras published in a recent issue of the Journal of Telemedicine & Telecare, University of Rochester Medical Center dentists tried to pick subjects from minority families. According to the study, nearly 40 percent of 162 toddlers were suffering from baby bottle tooth decay. Most averaged about two cavities, but one child had as many as 20 decayed teeth.

"By catching ECC at its earliest stage, we will effectively save the patient and parent toothache and heartache, decrease use of emergency room services, and increase the usage of dentists by this underserved population," said Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski, assistant professor of dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and author of the study.

Following the study, the children were referred to dentists, with the researchers hoping that the subjects' parents would find it necessary to invest in dental care.