Get Your Teeth into a Healthier Data Diet

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How data can help the business end of the dentistry industry?

The jury is out in the trial by big data of wearable technology. Not everyone is entirely convinced by the arguments for electronic personal surveillance. I’m certainly not. The self tagging gadget enthusiasts argue that the medical profession can monitor everything and keep your health on track. Anything that wanders into dangerous levels, such as your blood pressure or your cholesterol count, can be detected early and rectified, they say. Automatically measuring and monitoring the vital signs can help a team of professionals - and their appointed machines - to address the various physiological conditions that reflect our health.

Some of us aren’t sold on the idea of a benevolent, automated dictatorship of the mind and body.

In the UK, for example, the National Health Service encourages doctors to prescribe Statins (a group of blood cholesterol lowering drugs) to patients, if their blood pressure is regularly too high.

In February 2014 the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) lowered the threshold at which patients would be told to go on these drugs. Previously, healthy patients had to be at a 20 per cent risk of having hear disease in the next decade, before they would be advised to go on stations. That limit has been halved to ten per cent.

Leaving aside the questions over the wisdom of this action – statins have side effects and once a patient starts taking them they are advised not to stop – there are other issues. Many doctors won’t put these drugs in their own bodies, even if they do fit the criteria of a target patient.

In a survey of its readership, UK medical profession magazine Pulse found that most doctors won’t go on statins themselves because they’re worried about increasing side-effects,  sceptical about the claims of benefit and fear it would increase workloads.

Meanwhile, there have been many claims over the years that there is a link between oral health and heart disease. Studies by the University of Birmingham’s School of Dentistry and Kings College London, to take two examples of many, show the frequency of both rise at the same time. Other analysts have argued that the link between them is coincidental.

If bad dental hygiene does indeed lead to everything from heart disease to immune system deficiencies, Internet of Things pioneer Wyless is on the case. It has identified how the connected toothbrush and data analytics could improve our health and well being with a system of comparative data on tooth cleaning regimes. We British could be ‘plaque shamed’ into taking better care of ourselves.

In theory, big data analytics platforms created by the likes of the big vendors like Boots, Colgate and Oral B could create a font of knowledge that could be shared with your dentist, says Wyless MD Gilli Coston. “It could transform dental health and cut the cost to the national health service,” she says.

Meanwhile, French company Spinali Design has created a connected bikini that sends alerts to a responsible adult if the wearer is neglecting to wear enough sunscreen.

Clearly there are possible benefits to we pasty-faced, dentally challenged Brits. But it’s possible to see how the patrician attitude of many Internet of Things developers might upset a lot of people.

This intrusiveness will be especially wounding if the data collected is not securely curated. A recent study by Boston based Harbor Research (on behalf of developer Progress) identified data privacy and personal privacy as the biggest blockages to progress in the Internet of Things.

Given that smart homes, wearables, automotive and fitness applications are at the vanguard of the IoT, that means that the information being shared by machines is incredibly personal, says Mark Armstrong, Progress’s MD.

“Security is a massive issue because people really don’t want their intimate details being harvested,” says Armstrong. It was bad enough when IT companies lost their confidential financial data. These wearable monitors hold information that is much closer to their heart – literally in some cases.

It’s not just the sanctity of data that is holding back the IoT, but the clarity of it. Information flows are slow in the machine to machine world, because there is little compatibility between the forms of data, the systems used to store it and the tools used to control it.

Application developers from the US, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Holland and India all say that data is the biggest vulnerability. Three quarters of them or 77% of developers, told the study they can’t manage data when building IoT apps either due to data overload, lack of skills and resources, inflexible technology or internal demands.

If only there was a new database design – a NuoDB, if you like – that offered the compatibility and safety that modern developers crave. Ideally, they could use this NuoDB without having to re-train, which is both expensive and time consuming. It must be able to run in the cloud – so capacity could be ramped up and down as needed – while still maintaining its integrity and security. Does anyone know if there’s a system out there?

Now that would be something we could get our teeth into!

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