What is Teledentistry?
With the threat of exposure to the novel coronavirus continuing to increase in the United States, isolation from the public is being encouraged. With most dentist offices closed for all but emergency care, patients have a relatively new way to access dental care through teledentistry.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), teledentistry refers to a method of delivering dental care to patients when the patient and dentist are in different physical locations.1 Teledentistry is not a specific service. Instead, the term refers to the use of technology (computers, digital cameras, etc.) to deliver a variety of services without the patient and dentist being in the same location. In other words, patients can see a dentist using electronic methods such as phones, computers, video cameras and the internet.
Like telehealth, teledentistry can provide oral health care to people who would otherwise have a difficult time getting to a dentist’s office, such as those living in rural areas and patients who live in nursing homes or rehabilitation centers.2
There are several methods of delivering dental care using teledentistry. A dentist and patient might use a computer with a video camera that allows them to speak directly to each other. The dentist can see the patient’s mouth and make treatment recommendations in real time.
Other methods include sending X-rays and photographs through the internet for a dentist or specialist to review before calling the patient back with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Both the ADA and American Teledentistry Association (ATDA) recognize multiple ways for getting teledentistry to underserved patients.3
Virtual examinations and consultations for dentistry can be a cost-effective and convenient way for many patients. With the increase in the general population’s ability to obtain contact lenses, prescription medicines, bank and file taxes online, dentists and patients are starting to embrace technology that allows them to provide care to patients outside their office walls.
Teledentistry benefits include the following:4
- Improves patient’s oral hygiene
- Less expensive than in-office visits
- Improves access to care
- Reduces time away from jobs and home
- More accessible to working patients
- Provides the same standard of care as face-to-face appointments
Common situations where a licensed dentist can use teledentistry to evaluate and diagnose a patient just as in a face-to-face dental visit include:5
- A patient comes to their local hospital’s emergency room with a swollen tooth. Emergency room staff contacts a dentist using teledentistry methods to determine the best treatment plan.
- A patient at home experiences a toothache and contacts a remote dentist to assess the condition and prescribe medications or home care treatments.
- A child with a disability has a toothache. The parent, using digital cameras and internet access, has a dentist evaluate the condition to determine if a trip to the office is necessary.
Limitations of Teledentistry
As with all new innovations, teledentistry has its limitations.6 While many services, such as examinations, diagnosis, X-rays, treatment planning and patient education can be accomplished using teledentistry, some services still require a hands-on approach.
Fillings and crowns require a visit to a dental office; teeth cleaning and gum disease treatments require the use of equipment only found at a brick-and-mortar clinic; root canal therapy and tooth extractions must be done in a dental office.7
Other limitations include the lack of broadband internet access in rural areas, patients’ inability to access or use technology, some dentists’ inability to get reimbursed for teledental services, limitations of laws and regulations, and the cost of the equipment. Dental insurance plans vary widely in their coverage. Contact your provider before starting any teledentistry services.
Which States Allow Teledentistry?
Teledentistry is a relatively new concept so some state dental regulatory boards have not written regulations to implement the practice. With patient safety and protection in mind, teledentistry regulations often focus on making sure patients receive the same quality of care as those who go to brick-and-mortar offices. In other words, the service a patient receives using teledentistry must meet the same standards that the patient would receive in a dental office.
California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Arizona, Oregon, South Dakota and Tennessee have written laws defining teledentistry and regulating how dentists can use it to bring services safely to patients. Other states have not yet addressed the issue.
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The Future of Teledentistry
Delivery of dental care through teledentistry has enormous potential. Rural communities that have no access to a local dentist or specialists could benefit most. Advances in computer technology, better availability to internet access, the proliferation of smart phones with photo and video capabilities makes teledentistry easier to implement.
Ultimately teledentistry may be able to improve access to care and lower the cost of that care. The ease of exchanging information can lead to better patient care, the ability to provide specialty consultations and help patients to better understand their treatment options.
Guardian Direct has approved teledentistry services through May 31, 2020 when used by our customers. Learn more on our COVID-19 response page.
Links to external sites are provided for your convenience in locating related information and services. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents and employees expressly disclaim any responsibility for and do not maintain, control, recommend, or endorse third-party sites, organizations, products, or services and make no representation as to the completeness, suitability, or quality thereof.
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. It 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.
1. https://www.ada.org, 2017
2. https://www.dentistrytoday.com, 2018
3. https://www.americanteledentistry.org, 2017
4. https://www.americanteledentistry.org/facts-about-teledentistry/, 2017
5. https://www.americanteledentistry.org/facts-about-teledentistry/, 2017
6. https://actascientific.com/ASDS/pdf/ASDS-03-0531.pdf, 2019
7. https://www.ada.org, 2019