|There is a widening gap in access to oral health care in our country. How wide?
According to a recent DentaQuest report, three in four patients have experienced an obstacle to oral health care. Three in four — that’s 75%. Reasons for this gap include lack of insurance, a lack of dentists in the area, transportation challenges and language barriers.
Fortunately, these problems have solutions. And teledentistry is one of them.
What is teledentistry? The term refers to a variety of technologies and tactics used to virtually deliver oral health and education services. It helps to connect providers to each other or connects providers directly with patients in a variety of settings. Teledentistry facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients and includes synchronous interactions (teleconferencing) and asynchronous transfers (chat, images, store and forward).
Here's a sample appointment, showing the interaction between a patient and a provider.
Teledentistry During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Teledentistry has been around for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put teledentistry into the spotlight. And the more patients, providers and policymakers learned more about how teledentistry works the more they realized its potential as a long-term complement to tradional dental care.
One study found that patients felt overwhelmingly positive about their teledentistry experience. Survey data from Oregon, released in June 2020, showed that 86% of patients said they would recommend teledentistry services to others.
(DentaQuest is affiliated with CareQuest Institute, an industry advancing nonprofit.)
||86% of patients said they
would use teledentistry again
The Future of Teledentistry
As we work to expand access to oral health care, teledentistry plays a crucial role.
Teledentistry can benefit a broad range of populations, including Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, the uninsured, underserved and rural populations, people with urgent dental care needs and people who fear going to the dentist. It also bridges critical gaps in access to care by expanding limited capacity within a practice, enabling emergency dental consults or preventive hygiene education without barriers to travel, and improving patient referrals thanks to provider-to-provider consultations. When it is more broadly adopted, teledentistry will have wider implications for both patient outcomes and care-delivery capacity.
As the nation, states and industries look to the recovery period beyond the pandemic, DentaQuest is getting ready for what comes next. We know that teledentistry will continue to provide an important bridge between providers, patients and communities for many types of care and needs — from hands-on emergency care to preventive care and minimally invasive early interventions. Many providers are already embracing teledentistry in new and creative ways, from creating virtual classes on family oral hygiene for children, to routinely doing teledentistry consults with new patients to understand their immediate needs.
Taken together, the many applications of teledentistry can help maintain access to oral health care during a crisis. And industry leaders are beginning to recognize and leverage teledentistry’s potential to improve access, equity, health outcomes and patient satisfaction in the future.