It’s hard to find a reason to smile these days.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been canceling people’s lives all over the world. Even the most basic and routine activities like trips to the dentist are being postponed indefinitely, thanks to the new coronavirus.
And while your dentist probably isn’t on the list of people you miss while living in self-quarantine, there’s a good reason you should be thinking about how to get your next dental checkup.
That reason? Dental health problems don’t stop for a pandemic.
With so many dental offices still closed or only opening for limited hours, your options for getting dental care in an emergency may be pretty slim.
Countless Americans are still living in fear of their lives and can’t afford the risk of setting foot outside their homes to visit a dental practice even if one was open.
Now is the time for teledentistry, an up-and-coming branch of dental care, to shine.
Teledentistry wasn’t very well-known or widely practiced before the pandemic, but the current health crisis is prompting every dentist in the country to reevaluate the way they offer their services.
Here’s everything you need to know about this dental healthcare trend.
What Is Teledentistry?
Teledentistry is exactly what it sounds like: dentistry practiced remotely via telephone or some other means of digital communication.
Dentists can offer their skills, knowledge, and services by communicating with patients through various digital media. While dentists can’t yet perform root canals via Skype, teledentistry allows dentists to interact with patients to evaluate their dental health condition, explain dental facts, and instruct them on the next steps they should take.
Teledentistry can be an adjunct or follow-up to other dental services provided in the clinical setting, or it could be a standalone service that replaces a visit with the dentist.
How Does Teledentistry Work?
Basically, teledentistry can be offered for any treatment that doesn’t involve physically touching your teeth. Dentists are now using modern communication platforms to educate and consult with their patients and answer their questions without having to visit them in person.
So what’s teledentistry like?
First of all, you’ll have to figure out which communication platform to use. There are large companies that have developed their own online system or teledentistry app. Some private dental practice owners sign on with these companies to use their software in virtual patient treatment.
But other dental practices might opt to use communication media that you’re more familiar with. The important thing is for the messaging platform to be private and secure. Patient privacy laws prevent dentists from using public-facing apps to communicate with patients.
See the accompanying chart for some examples of what does or doesn’t constitute a safe platform for communicating with your dentist.
Good Teledentistry Platforms
Not Allowed for Teledentistry
Once you sign up for a treatment, then you’ll probably only need two things: good lighting and someone to hold your phone camera for you while you pull your cheek back to show the dentist the tooth in question.
Before you even get started, however, you’ll need to update your medical records and sign some legal forms. The dentist needs to make sure that you know there are limits to what teledentistry can accomplish. There’s always a possibility that your dentist could miss an important detail simply because looking at your mouth through a phone camera lens isn’t the same thing as examining it in the dental chair.
While such digital dental exams are less than ideal, they are better than nothing.
In fact, teledentistry has several advantages over traditional clinical treatment.
Benefits of Teledentistry
As we mentioned earlier, teledentistry is really coming in handy at a time when many people can’t leave their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it’s not a fad that will die down with the coronavirus. The other benefits of teledentistry will ensure that it stays around for a long time.
What Is a Virtual Dentist?
Virtual dentists are essentially online doctors who provide services remotely which they can bill for. They may interact with patients directly or be available remotely while another dental professional like a hygienist performs in-person services and consults with the dentist on behalf of the patient.
What States Allow Teledentistry?
So far, every state has made some sort of adjustment to their legislation regarding telehealth or the practice of virtual medicine, which includes teledentistry.
While state laws vary, they’ve all been recently tweaked in some way to make it easier for residents to get the virtual care they need. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has published a document here that outlines current and pending legislative updates to telehealth requirements during the COVID-19 health crisis.
If you’re curious about what the telehealth laws are in your state, check out that document for the latest updates.
How Teledentistry Is Evolving
Nearly two thirds of Americans report not visiting the dentist within the past year and it’s not just money that’s an issue. Teledentistry could prove to be the key to overcoming accessibility and time constraints and reaching more of the population with critical early dental care that will prevent the need for more invasive treatment.
More and more dental professionals are realizing the potential of teledentistry and COVID-19 seems to have been the event that’s nudging everyone to take the leap and give it a try.
The growth potential for this dental treatment modality is practically unlimited. The demand for dental services and expertise will be here as long as humans have teeth. And there’s currently no end in sight to the need for social distancing measures.
It’s quite likely that we’ll see more patients demanding the opportunity to consult with their dentist from the security of their own home. Dental practice owners who want to keep up with the competition will have to make changes to meet the expectations of patients who need to be accommodated with virtual care.
There are also significant challenges to maintaining a socially-distanced dental office that minimizes contact between patients and staff. It will probably be easier for dentists to adopt more teledentistry treatment opportunities than to remodel their offices, change treatment protocol, re-train their staff, and purchase extra PPE like gloves, masks, and face shields.
The practical, safe, and cost-efficient choice is clear. Teledentistry is here to stay and its future looks bright.
Emerging legislation, broader credentialing requirements, and more temporary licensing provisions are making it easier for doctors to get approved for telehealth services including teledentistry.
If you’re a dental practice owner or thinking about getting into dentistry as a career, then now is definitely the time to get on board with the teledentistry trend. Doing so will help you make a difference in community dental health, gain valuable experience with rapidly-evolving technology, and grow your professional network.
The ongoing pandemic doesn’t have to spell failure for new dentists in the industry. This article by RevenueWell discusses the ways teledentistry could provide a boost to dental practices. Teledentistry can create an entirely new income stream by covering a gap in dental services and ensure access to treatment for hundreds of new patients.
So if you’re a dental school hopeful who’s worried about your professional future, keep teledentistry at the front of your mind; it could be the key to getting a successful head-start on your goals.
How are teledental services even charged?
That’s still a topic that’s under discussion, but the ADA has published an interim teledentistry billing and coding guide for COVID-19. This document is constantly being revised and so far recommends six dental codes to cover oral examinations and teledental services. It also lists current information on the billing policies of third party payers.
Are you ready to experience the benefits of teledentistry for yourself?
Teledentistry Websites for Dentists
We recommend checking out the following resources if you’d like to learn more about incorporating teledentistry into your own dental practice:
This is an important resource for dental professionals who need a network of support to get started in offering remote dental care services. The site also hosts a job board that is only viewable by registered members of the association.
Did you know that this popular smile aligner company also has a teledentistry platform? They’re welcoming dentists interested in joining their partnership referral program and using their teledentistry app for communicating with patients.
Teledentistry Websites for Patients
You don’t even have to be an established patient at a dental office to start scheduling virtual dental appointments.
Visit these websites to begin exploring your options:
The TeleDentists is very easy to use! You only have to set up an online account and you'll have a virtual consultation in minutes. If dental work is required, a customer service representative will schedule a dental appointment for you at the best location based on your preferences. And, don't worry, all your information will be kept safely and HIPAA compliant (the standards for sensitive data protection.)
The world-famous toothbrush designer also has a no-frills teledentistry app that can give you a clear and simple dental checkup report for a fraction of what it would cost to visit your dentist in-person. If you’re interested in professional teeth whitening, Philips can help you locate a Zoom! teeth whitening dentist near you.
Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
Although teledentistry is here to stay, digital healthcare still isn’t always the perfect solution.
Pros of Teledentistry
Cons of Teledentistry
Say “Ahh” and Snap a Selfie! Teledentistry and You
Cliche as it may sound, the future is now. Teledentistry is no longer just the future of dentistry; it’s a current reality that both dentists and patients alike must be ready to embrace.
Telehealth certainly falls short of the standard of in-person healthcare, but it’s a highly innovative solution during this desperate time of COVID-19 when simply being near other humans threatens human lives.
We’ll be seeing teledentistry stick around for the long haul as it continues to make dental health more accessible and affordable to millions of people.
And that’s definitely something worth smiling about.
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