The COVID-19 pandemic has forced entire industries and organizations to fast-track digital transformation to continue providing services. Schools have adopted remote learning, employees are working from home and dentists are using teledentistry services to consult patients. Although some businesses may revert to their former practices after the pandemic ends, many others will leverage new technology to provide additional benefits and attract new customers and patients.
What is teledentistry?
Many dentist offices across the United States have postponed elective procedures and non-urgent dental services. In an effort to continue offering even limited services, dentists across the world are using teledentistry (virtual dental visits) to reach patients with dental problems and decide whether a face-to-face dental appointment is needed.
During COVID-19, teledentistry has allowed patients to speak with and see a dentist without risking exposure to the virus by travelling to a brick-and-mortar office.
Benefits of teledentistry after COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the idea of teledentistry was already in place in many locations to provide oral health care to those living in rural areas. Teledentistry has helped residents of rural Alaska get dental care for many years.1
With many dentists and patients taking advantage of teledentistry during the pandemic, it’s not hard to see how its adoption could continue to rise to provide the following benefits:
- Improves access to care: Patients in rural areas, home-bound patients and the elderly may have trouble finding a dentist. Teledentistry breaks down those barriers and gives these underserved patients a chance to see and talk to a dentist about their dental problems.
- Reduces cost: Seeing a patient remotely means the dentist does not have to use up valuable gloves, mask, supplies, and gowns or use up clinic time on patient needs that can be treated without a face-to-face appointment.
- Provides services to disadvantaged children: Both rural and urban children are among the most underserved patient groups in the United States. Using teledentistry allows dentists to reach these children through computers at schools, homes, and community health programs to supply care, education, and advice for parents and caregivers.
- Better access to specialists: Through cameras, recorded interviews, and video recordings, dentist can convey patient needs to specialists for advice and recommendations for treatment. Many specialists practice only in large cities and are inaccessible to rural populations.
- Less intimidating: Let’s face it: going to the dentist can cause anxiety in some patients. Being able to speak with or see a dentist in the comfort of your own home is a far more comfortable experience.
- Better access for people with disabilities: In addition to children, people with disabilities and special needs are also underserved by dentistry. Problems with transportation and the need for a caregiver to attend appointments makes going to a dentist’s office especially hard.
- Improves oral hygiene education: One of the key advantages of teledentistry is the chance to educate patients on good oral hygiene practices. Teaching children to brush and floss, helping parents understand their child’s growth patterns, and giving advice about healthy diet choices can all be done using teledentistry.
- Cuts down on time away from work: Every year, Americans lose hundreds of work hours due to dental problems and appointments. Using teledentistry cuts down on hours away from jobs, helps patients stay employed, and avoids lost income.
- Frees up dentists’ time for clinical work: Many patients have minor dental problems that do not need face-to-face time with the dentist. If using teledentistry can address those problems, dentists would have far more time to treat patients whose needs they can treat only in a face-too-face visit.
Who will benefit from teledentistry after COVID-19?
The most likely people who will continue to receive help from teledentistry after the pandemic ends are those living in rural areas, the elderly, underprivileged children, and those living in nursing homes or other institutions.
For many years, residents of rural areas have been underserved by dentistry.2 Sparsely populated areas of the country, like the Mississippi Delta and remote areas in the West, simply do not have enough people to support a full-time dental practice.
Using community health centers and home computers, teledentistry can provide a means for people in these remote areas to regularly see and speak with a dentist. The dentist can see the patient’s condition using cameras and video then advise if the patient needs a face-to-face appointment.
The elderly, especially those living in nursing homes or other types of institutions for the disabled, will continue to benefit from teledentistry. This method of delivery of dental services removes the need for transporting an elderly or disabled person to a dental office for conditions that could be treated by home care or medicines.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.