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Digitalization is rapidly altering the way healthcare providers interact with patients: self-monitoring, tele medicine, massive open online medicine, and other trends change how patients receive health care. Dentists are in a specific position. Patients visit dentist’s office regularly for professional tooth cleanings and check-ups. Consequently, dentists are at the forefront of primary care provision, e.g., in any given year, 27 million Americans visit a dentist but do not see a physician. Because of their frequent contact to patients, dentists could become an important element of the health care system. Many systemic diseases present with oral manifestations such as changes in oral microbiome, salivary gland function, mucosal integrity, or damaged oral tissues. Similarly, psychological stress and mental disorders are linked to bruxism (tooth grinding), which in turn can result in disorders of the jaw joints and masticatory muscles. Yet, as dental medicine curricula in their current form focus on manual skills rather than on conveying broader medical expertise, dentist have mixed comfort levels translating the current medical knowledge into clinical practice. Further, the lack of reimbursement for patient education may additionally limit dentists in providing this task. Hence, cost-efficient tools are needed that assist dentists in such endeavors.
There is potential for engaging dentists in a wider spectrum of health care. In particular, they could engage in treatment of temporomandibular disorders and chronic orofacial pain. Those disorders often occur as a result of psychomotor problems and their treatment require adequate patient information rather than interventional procedures. Information therapy includes the provision of information on symptoms such as pain, discussing symptom-related biological and psychological aspects, as well as the consideration of psychosocial context factors. Major emphasis is placed on self-management, which has proven effective in patients experiencing chronic orofacial pain. However, for many patients this therapy comes very late and only after multiple costly visits to other specialists. With an adequate support, the dentists could provide information therapy to their patients, thus making treatment of orofacial pain and similar conditions more effective and less expensive.
This project sets itself the objective to empower dentists to offer information therapy to patients with temporomandibular disorders and orofacial pain. This could reduce the unnecessary interventions and thus enhance the patients’ life quality and contain cost. We envision a collaborative application that supports dentists at targeted information therapy in a twofold way: First, it provides the right information at the right time such that the dentist can seamlessly include it in their interaction with patient without having to rely on extensive preparation and/or additional special training. Second, it affords effective behaviors and conversational practices, thus improving the skills relevant for effective information therapy. Empowering dentists to offer a 360° health care would help the patient as well as the healthcare system at large.