teledentistry
Teledentistry offers many benefits to doctors and patients, including convenience. (Photo Source: iStock Photos)

During the past few years, many dentists considered teledentistry as just a new arm of the business with some potential. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic and widespread stay-at-home orders, most have realized that it is the present and future of dental practices.

The truth is, teledentistry has more potential than many have realized. It is the most viable way to cater for most dental patients. In fact, it has already become the primary revenue driver for many practices. 

For practices that are yet to integrate teledentistry, now is a great opportunity to do that. Many people, fearful of getting infected with COVID19 are reluctant to seek dental care in the midst of the pandemic.

However, from what we know, the popularity of virtual dental care will continue to grow. Even when the pandemic recedes, teledentistry will remain the most viable approach to dental care due to the many benefits it offers dentists and their patients. Are you considering integrating teledentistry into your practice? If so, read on.

This article will discuss how you can successfully integrate teledentistry into your dental practice right away.

What Is teledentistry?

Teledentistry is an aspect of telemedicine that deals with dental care. It is not a branch of dentistry, but an approach to dental health that is anchored on telemedicine and medical technology. Before integrating the technology, a perfect understanding of what it is all about is important.

According to the ADA

“Teledentistry provides the means for a patient to receive services when the patient is in one physical location, and the dentist or other oral health or general health care practitioner overseeing the delivery of those services is in another location.” 

From the definition above, we can summarize teledentistry as remote dental care. Like other forms of telemedicine, it is delivering health care (dental care in this case) from any convenient location to the comfort of a patient’s home. It does this through supported channels and devices such as

  • desktop
  • laptop
  • iOS and
  • Android devices

Considering that oral disease affects almost half of the world’s population (3.9 billion people), easy access to teledentistry is critical.

How teledentistry differs from general dentistry

Teledentistry, in comparison with general dentistry, helps dentists and dental professionals expand their services beyond geographical limitations. It enables individuals who have limited or no access to dental professionals to get the right dental care with ease and at an affordable cost. 

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What’s more, teledentistry can be synchronous (where consults happen in real-time) or asynchronous (which involves storing and forwarding patients’ clinical information safely and securely).

Regardless of where the dentist or healthcare provider is delivering the service from (terrestrial office or a remote location like home), there must be compliance with HIPAA regulations. 

Teledentistry uses 

Teledentistry dentistry is applicable in many ways. The most significant uses are in the following areas: 

  • Triaging emergency cases 

With teledentistry, it is a lot easier to sort through cases to determine how best to handle each one. This is especially important for busy dentists with a lot to handle at a time.

Through teledentistry, intraoral photos can be collected online to screen urgent needs and schedule office emergency appointments accordingly. The severity of disorders can also be assessed through video consults.

It is also easier for dentists to offer care instructions that can help patients until their scheduled office visits. In times of health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, patients can be asked to complete questionnaires to determine their health status and suitability for admission to your clinic.

  • Pre-operative evaluation and treatment planning 

With teledentistry, it is faster, safer, and more cost-effective to conduct pre-operative evaluations and treatment planning. In the past, such appointments required patients to visit the clinic physically.

With teledentistry, such appointments can be handled through virtual assessment or collection of intraoral pictures online. Diagnosis and prescriptions can also be offered through the different approved channels of communication. 

  • Multi-provider collaboration 

Prior to the advent of teledentistry, the collaboration of dentists and other healthcare providers from different hospitals and clinics used to be a big deal. Today, teledentistry has made clinical collaborations a lot easier and more efficient.

Videoconferencing and screen sharing makes it easier for every member of a care team to collaborate effectively to deliver the best possible care. The process of referral is a lot easier with telemedicine too. 

  • Post-operative appointments 

Follow-up appointments are super-important in healthcare delivery. However, there is no denying the fact that it puts a lot of pressure on clinics and healthcare providers. With telemedicine, the pressure can be significantly minimized. 

Also, teledentistry will help you conduct post-operative appointments remotely. This will save you time, save your staff the stress, and save your patients the cost and discomfort associated with coming down to your office.

Follow-up appointments and post-op consultation can be performed virtually from your office or another convenient location while the patient is at the comfort of their homes.  

  • Remote patient monitoring 

In a recent study, it was revealed that the Southeast United States has the lowest supply of dentists with only about 40-50 dentists per 100,000 residents. For places like these, continued patient monitoring can best be done virtually. 

In fact, with teledentistry, it is much easier and cost-effective to monitor your patients until they are fully recovered. The scenario can be as simple as patients taking pictures and sharing with their dentist or other oral health practitioners asynchronously. Or, live video visits can be conducted. This way, the dentists can serve more patients within their area.

  • Mobile health 

According to a comprehensive survey, about 14.1% of Americans don’t plan to see a dentist because they don’t have the time. Through teledentistry, dentists are able to help present and potential patients understand oral health better. Continued patient education is important for all aspects of health. 

Dentists can take advantage of cloud videos or personal messages to keep in touch with their patients and guide them towards excellent oral hygiene. Even if you have a busy schedule, teledentistry can guide you on how to improve your oral health virtually, from the comfort of your home.

Setting up the teledentistry process 

Setting up the teledentistry process is quite different from marketing your dental practice online. Just as you need to plan and set up your terrestrial office, you need to take time to set up the teledentistry process to work for you and your patients. Here are a few steps to do that: 

  • Determine the protocol 

Before launching teledentistry, you need to answer important questions, such as:

      • What services will you provide remotely?
      • Which ones must be performed in the terrestrial office?
      • How will a virtual visit look like in your practice?

Set-up your team for teledentistry and test-run your process before launching fully. You can make necessary adjustments with time. 

  • Configure your schedule 

You must define your virtual schedules and help every member of your team understand their roles. It is best to dedicate some hours of the day, every week to virtual dentistry. You can delegate that role to your team when your undivided attention is needed in the clinic. 

  • Set up the space for teledentistry 

It is also important that you set up a space for virtual dentistry in your office. If you intend to conduct virtual visits from your home, set up an appropriate place for it too. 

  • Ensure documentation 

Virtual visits are real visits to your practice and must be treated as such. This means you should document them appropriately. The documentation process from intake to virtual walkouts to online billing/payments must be streamlined. 

  • Carry your patients along 

It is also important that you carry your patients along immediately after setting up your teledentistry practice. Start with your team and get the message out to current patients before targeting potential dental patients. 

Benefits of teledentistry 

In 2019, more than 53 million Americans lived in places with a dental health professional shortage, making them less likely to receive needed dental care. Undoubtedly, teledentistry has many benefits. The most prominent ones you should always keep in mind are: 

      • It’s much more convenient 
      • Concerns of social distancing during health crises ease
      • Shorter wait times in dental clinics are ensured 
      • Overall efficiency is improved
      • Revenues for the dentist and dental clinics are enhanced
      • Clinical collaborations are facilitated
      • Costs of dental care for both dentists and patients are reduced
      • Dental care can be expanded to people in remote areas 

Related Content:  Why Telemedicine IS the Future of Healthcare

Conclusion:  Teledentistry is the present and future of dental care delivery

It has several benefits for dentists, their patients, and the healthcare system. This is a good time to integrate teledentistry into your dental practice and we have discussed how you can do that. Take time to plan the move and carry your patients along immediately after the integration. 

Kandice Swarthout, RDH, LPC

Kandice Swarthout, RDH, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dental Hygienist. She is a full-time professor of dental hygiene in Dallas where she teaches Community Dentistry and Research and Clinic II and III.

She is involved in the Governmental Affairs Counsel and has spoken to the Senate and House Health Committees to endorse local anesthesia for hygienists in Texas. Kandice maintains a certification as a kettlebell instructor with StrongFirst where she teaches and promotes strength and wellness.

Kandice is the owner of Inspired Education & Wellness where she is a speaker and writer and combines her clinical dental and mental health experience to help other healthcare professionals have a fulfilling work-life experience. She is also a member of The Teethblog medical team.

She provides presentations to help anxious patients and how to prevent clinical burnout. Kandice is the author of various publications and offers her services as a website content writer.

Her biggest passion in counseling is working with incarcerated individuals. She spent 2 years working one on one in a county jail where she learned more about compassion and that everyone has a story.

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