Teledentistry is dentistry done through information technology, rather than through person-to-person contact between a patient and a dentist. While that might sound impossible at first—after all, how can someone work on your teeth without being physically present?—there are many ways in which teledentistry can help improve oral care while keeping costs down for the consumer.
These practices, for example, would be considered teledentistry:
- A person asking for professional advice on a website for methods to straighten their crooked teeth.
- A person taking a photo of a sore or infected-looking spot in their mouth and posting it in an online forum to solicit a professional diagnosis.
- A local dentist electronically transmitting photographs, X-rays, and even 3D models to a specialist living in another state.
- A qualified doctor creating a prescription for antibiotics or pain medicine when the patient cannot come in for an appointment.
- A dentist or orthodontist using email, texts, or even an app to help supervise and monitor a patient’s progress and ensure that their treatment is working effectively.
- A person purchasing an at-home clear aligner kit online, sending in the required photos, and receiving their clear aligner trays at home.
Teledentistry tends to be used most in the areas of preventive dentistry, diagnosis, orthodontics, endodontics, oral medicine, and patient education.
“Teledentistry is a great innovation in dentistry because it simplifies and streamlines care delivery,” says Dr. Rick Workman, Founder and Executive Chairman of Heartland Dental. “Telemedicine is where healthcare is going in general, and that progression is driving positive changes in the dental industry and for patients.”
Benefits of Teledentistry
While teledentistry will never replace in-person dentistry, it can help to make dentistry as a whole more affordable and more accessible. When used appropriately, and in combination with qualified local dentists, teledentistry can:
Provide more precise treatment.
Specialists and dental laboratories can be reached more easily and sent specific information about a patient’s case, allowing for more accurate diagnosis and more precise, individually tailored treatment.
For example, an orthodontic expert can receive a 3D model of a patient’s mouth over the internet and come up with a precise, customized treatment plan that the patient and his/her local dentist can follow.
Another example: A patient with a mysterious sore spot in his or her mouth can send the photo to a dentist, get a diagnosis, and find out whether the problem merits an appointment with a local dentist.
Reduce the cost of dentistry.
For many dental health needs, teledentistry eliminates travel time, which means both lower transportation costs and less time away from work or school. This helps keep the price of dental treatment down for the consumer.
Teledentistry can also help specialists see more patients in a more time-efficient manner, which helps them keep their costs down, too.
Finally, there is evidence that teledentistry encourages people to get check-ups more often and to seek advice on dental problems before they become serious. In other words, teledentistry is helping the dental profession catch more problems sooner, which brings down the cost of treatment across the industry.
Make dentistry more accessible.
Teledentistry is especially helpful for people living in more remote areas who might not have easy access to a local dentist. It can also be helpful for people who might not have a good dental insurance plan, and so cannot just “drop by” the dentist whenever they suspect a problem.
Take away some of the “fear factor” in dentistry.
Let’s be honest: Many people have a fear, or at least a strong dislike, of the dentist. Sometimes just the sound of a drill or the sight of a dentist’s chair can give a person feelings of anxiety. Teledentistry takes away a lot of the visual and auditory cues that trigger these anxious feelings. Patients often report feeling less nervous and more “in control” when turning to teledentistry.
Even when a patient is in a dental office working with a local dentist, simply knowing that the dentist has access to a whole professional network can make a person feel better about their diagnosis and treatment plans.
Does Teledentistry Work? The Scientific Evidence
Naturally, whether teledentistry “works” or not depends on what you are trying to achieve, and which professionals you choose to work with.
There is a lot of evidence that gives professionals in the industry hope for teledentistry’s future:
- A 2017 study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association found that teledentistry offered in nursing homes showed excellent accuracy for diagnosing dental pathology, and also allowed for more regular check-ups and early intervention/prevention.
- A 2007 study in the journal Pediatric Dentistry found that cavity screenings of children using an intra-oral scanner and an e-access health network were just as good at finding cavities as an in-person checkup.
- A separate 2007 study of children in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics found that teledentistry could provide orthodontic services to disadvantaged children that was comparable to seeing an orthodontist in-person over the treatment period.
- A 2008 study in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare found that diagnosis of mouth lesions could be done correctly 88% of the time through email, without the need for an in-person consultation.
- A more comprehensive 2017 study in that same journal found that teledentistry did, in fact, provide people living in remote areas a viable option for remote screening, diagnosis, consultation, treatment planning, and mentoring in the field of dentistry.
Where Teledentistry Meets Traditional Dentistry: Local Recommendations
Forward-thinking dentists are embracing teledentistry as a way to expand their local practices, offer more and better services, and better help their patients.
“In its 2017 Outpatient Telemedicine study, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) estimated that 71 percent of healthcare providers had adopted telemedicine solutions, compared to 54 percent just a few years prior in 2014,” added Dr. Workman. “These opportunities for collaboration lead to faster treatment plans and more efficient care delivery.”
Another way that teledentistry is helping people is by assisting them in identifying qualified experts close to them (or their families). For example, the Dental Health Society has its own Find a Dentist Tool, which helps people find a qualified dentist near them. Try it today: