Teledentistry: What is It and How Does It Work?

A New Era: What is Teledentistry?

The world is constantly changing because of technology, but what does this mean for dentists? Teledentistry is the creation of virtual contact in order to treat patients. Dentists can now meet with patients through video conferencing, text messages, online portals, and even by phone. These appointments can happen anywhere and anytime. Appointments at home in jogging pants and blankets? Yes, please!

Teledentisty can provide urgent help to patients who might otherwise go to the emergency department, which takes the strain off emergency staff. In the current climate of restrictions and travel complications, Teledentistry can ensure that patients still get the quality dental care they need. While we don’t know exactly what the future holds, we know that Teledentistry will continue to offer practical dental solutions for many years to come.

How Does Teledentistry Work?

Appointments provided in a virtual setting can help replace emergency room appointments and improve ongoing oral health education, pre-op, and post-op consultations. This means dentists can prescribe antibiotics and other medications required for surgery or emergencies until the patient can see their own dentist or find a local one. Basically, this helps ensure dependable dental care in a timely manner.

While you can’t drill a cavity or clean teeth over a Zoom meeting, we can use a virtual dental appointment to:

  • Prescribe emergency pain medication or antibiotics so that a patient can get immediate relief outside of office hours.
  • Evaluate the condition of a dental appliance for orthodontics using either live video or still photos from the patient’s camera.
  • Oversee the work of a hygienist working off-site, such as in a prison, school, or nursing home.
  • Allow patients in remote areas to consult with dental specialists without driving into the city.
  • Present treatment plans and financing options after an initial in-office examination or consultation.
  • Run a virtual intake appointment for a new patient.
  • Give patients advice on home care or after-surgery routines.
  • Recommend dental treatments such as specific toothbrushes or oral rinses and  check up on patient compliance and experiences with these treatments.

Are you unsure if your patients would like the option of telemedicine for these appointments? Ask them! Coronavirus has introduced many Americans to the required technology, so more people will consider Teledentistry a valid option.

The Benefits of Teledentistry

Teledentistry benefits both dental practices and patients. Dental practices can reach patients who have irregular schedules or difficulty traveling, thereby expanding their reach in the community.  In addition, offering some services outside an office environment can reduce the numbers of people in the office at one time, protecting against COVID-19 risk. For instance:

  • A treatment coordinator might work from home and complete case conferences through a video chat app.
  • Patients who fail a COVID-19 symptom screen can receive urgent dental care and prescriptions at home, with instructions to follow-up in-person after their symptoms have cleared.
  • Since enhanced cleaning procedures take time, seeing some less serious consults by video can free up more chair time for cases that need to be in the office.  For example, a parent concerned about an erupting tooth’s position can send a photo of their child’s mouth instead of bringing the child into the office for a 5-minute check-up.

Patients also benefit from Teledentistry. Being seen remotely saves them gas, time off from work, and travel time. This is  especially helpful for people working in service industries where PTO is limited or for people who must travel long distances for specialty dental care.

Evening and weekend Teledentistry hours can give people an alternative to emergency room care for after-hours dental emergencies. This saves time, money, and provides better care since most ERs do not have a dental specialist on staff.

Finally, patients with anxiety may benefit from Teledentistry since it gives them an opportunity to receive care and get to know the office team outside the scary environment of a dental office.  By scheduling remote consultations for a first visit, the office team can ease anxious patients into the practice and plan for sedation dentistry if necessary.

Will Teledentistry Still be Popular After the Pandemic?

Teledentistry will be around long after current restrictions cease.  While it took COVID-19 for telemedicine to become popular, many patients and practitioners now appreciate the virtual dental appointments–and insurers are now willing to reimburse for them! As more and more people gain experience in teleconferencing, Teledentistry will become a normal service offered by practices throughout North America. Are you ready to add it to your practice?

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