Personalized dental care through data and technology 

By: Dr. Joseph Errante, Vice President, Provider Network & Clinical Strategies, Northeast Delta Dental

In recent years, there has been a trend towards personalization in health care, with doctors, hospitals, and health insurers seeking to use clinical, genetic, environmental, and behavioral information to tailor health care, and health insurance, to individuals. This can't be done without data. In the medical field, doctors and hospitals leverage dozens of data points, from weight and cholesterol levels to family history and personal health habits, to identify health risks and develop evidence-based, individualized treatment plans for patients. Unlike other specialties, dentistry has been somewhat behind on this trend. Until now.

For years, dentistry has exclusively relied on the model of using two cleanings a year to identify, monitor, and address oral health concerns such as tooth decay and gum disease. However, with the right tool to gather and analyze relevant oral health data points, dentists can develop evidence-based oral health treatments and interventions, and dental insurers can develop personalized dental benefits.

Since 2017, Northeast Delta Dental has been a leader in this space. Its Health through Oral Wellness® (HOW) program provides personalized care for its patients. HOW leverages PreViser technology to provide evidence-based benefits to subscribers. With the PreViser tool, a clinician can conduct a risk assessment in a few short minutes. The assessment asks for environmental and behavioral information, such as access to fluoridated water or smoking history, as well as clinical information that the dentist or hygienist can identify, such as the presence of bone loss or tooth decay. This data is then run through PreViser’s algorithms to calculate a numeric risk score and a numeric severity score. PreViser assessments reveal whether a patient is at greater risk of oral diseases or medical complications related to oral health. These risk reports are intended to provide an objective and reproducible way to measure, understand, and communicate patients’ oral health risk and disease level. In other words, using PreViser risk scores, the HOW program allows dentists to identify the most suitable diagnostic and preventive benefits for patients at elevated risk for oral disease.

The benefits of personalized dental care do not stop there. As clinicians continue to incorporate tools like PreViser's risk assessments into regular check-up routines, historical data will allow dentists to track patients’ oral health risk over time, evidence improvement, prompt more preventive services, and motivate improved home care. Dental offices can also use technology like PreViser to communicate with patients regarding their home care. With PreViser, patients can estimate their own oral health risk scores by taking an online self-assessment from home. Similarly, multi-office dental practices can use PreViser to share patient data, treatment plans, and patient population health trends across offices and practitioners. And as medical and dental science continue to develop in identifying the connections between oral health and some chronic medical conditions, tools like PreViser's risk scores may have utility for broader medical care.   

Medical care is moving away from a one-size-fits-all model. Dentistry should too. Using scientifically validated tools to tailor treatment and benefits to individual needs is better for dentists and better for the oral and overall health of patients.