Teledentistry

There is a widening gap in access to oral health care in our country: Three in four patients have experienced an obstacle to oral health care. These obstacles include cost and lack of insurance, a lack of dentists in the area, transportation challenges and language barriers.
 
Fortunately, these problems have solutions. And teledentistry is one of them.
 
What is teledentistry? The term refers to a variety of technologies and tactics used to virtually deliver oral health and education services. It helps to connect providers to each other or connects providers directly with patients in a variety of settings. Teledentistry facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients and includes synchronous interactions (teleconferencing) and asynchronous transfers (chat, images, store and forward).
 

Teledentistry During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Teledentistry has been around for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put teledentistry into the spotlight. During the early months of the pandemic, virtual health interactions increased 50% as people reduced in-person visits due to stay-at-home orders. Patients, providers and policymakers learned more about how teledentistry works and identified opportunities to use it as a long-term complement to traditional dental care. 
 
One study found that patients felt overwhelmingly positive about their teledentistry experience. Survey data from Oregon, released in June 2020, showed that 86% of patients said they would recommend teledentistry services to others.

 
vector graphic hand holding an ipad 86% of patients said they
would use teledentistry again

Oral health leaders, including Kirill Zaydenman, vice president of innovation at DentaQuest, believe that “adoption of new modes of telecommunication in dentistry, whether among providers, or between providers and patients, was overdue.”
 
Teledentistry can benefit a broad range of populations, including Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, the uninsured, underserved and rural populations, people with urgent dental care needs, and people who fear going to the dentist. It also bridges critical gaps in access to care, such as expanding limited capacity within a practice, enabling emergency dental consults or preventive hygiene education without barriers to travel, and improving patient referrals thanks to provider-to-provider consultations. When further industrialized and more broadly adopted, teledentistry will have wider implications for both patient outcomes and care-delivery capacity.  
 
Video
The Rapid Rise of Teledentistry
In a new two-minute video, Kirill Zaydenman, vice president of innovation at DentaQuest, discusses how and why the adoption of teledentistry has accelerated during the pandemic. He also shares some challenges that have emerged and three potential solutions that can lead to a better oral health system.
 
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Blog
What COVID-19 Is Teaching Us About Teledentistry
As teledentistry use soared amid COVID-19, we’ve all learned about gaps in knowledge — among patients, providers and policymakers alike — and its potential to complement traditional dental care.
Read blog »
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White Paper
Fast Track to Teledentistry
Rebuilding our health care system around value and finding ways to care for the more than 56 million American residing in areas with a shortage of dental professionals will require various changes, including leveraging technology to connect patients and providers for services and information sharing.
Learn more »

Closing the Gap in Access
There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that people have access to teledentistry. In a recent white paper, Fast-Track to Teledentistry, the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement highlighted several ways teledentistry helps close the gap in access to dental services, and the barriers that remain.
 
In the report, an analysis of a teledentistry program in Colorado found that most of its patients had not received dental services in more than a year, and 10 percent had never obtained such care before the program began. These statistics show how teledentistry can reach many people who otherwise would go without care.
 
State policymakers can also play an important role in addressing barriers to teledentistry by:
  • Updating reimbursement policies so that both public and private insurers cover teledentistry
  • Clarifying data security and rules of compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Increasing access to broadband internet
The reality is that more than 56 million Americans live in an area with a shortage of dental professionals. Teledentistry has helped bridge that gap, making access to dental care possible in situations where it would otherwise be a struggle. It’s been used effectively in rural and urban communities from California to Missouri, giving providers the flexibility they need to deliver care.

 

The Future of Teledentistry
As the nation, states and industries look to the recovery period beyond the pandemic, DentaQuest is getting ready for what comes next. We know that teledentistry will continue to provide an important bridge between providers, patients and communities for many types of care and needs, from hands-on emergency care to preventive care and minimally invasive early interventions.

Beyond its ability to maintain access to oral health care during a crisis, industry leaders must also recognize and leverage teledentistry’s potential to improve access, equity, health outcomes and patient satisfaction in future everyday practice. Today’s patients want faster, more affordable, and more convenient health encounters, enabled by platforms and tools they already use. And that’s not going to change post-pandemic.

 


 
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