Teledentristy assumes key role amid pandemic

A remote consultation involving upcoming dental surgery. (Photo: verbaska, via Shutterstock)

The pandemic has created plenty of insecurity, but one bright spot has been the integration of technology into our daily lives.

Through video conferencing and other technologies, we have been able to keep meetings with coworkers and reduce the isolation of quarantine by providing a face-to-face connection with family and friends.

Technology is playing an important role in our health care delivery system, too. With dental services deemed an “essential service,” dental offices have been able to treat patients in a safe and secure environment – employing substantial safety measures to keep staff and patients protected. Yet, patient fears about safety, understandably, remain.

Teledentistry is a safer means of providing care as it limits person-to-person contact, and is more accessible for patients by reducing both cost and location restraints.

Concerns about whether it is safe in the dental chair has caused patient volume to be extremely slow to getting back to pre-pandemic levels. Even with the increase in protective gear, the American Dental Association found that the reluctance to visit a dentist has resulted in a 38% reduction in the dental industry for 2020 and will continue this downward trend with double-digits going into 2021.

With demand for dental care depleted, and costs increasing due to additional protective care needs, industry leaders, according to a recent Fortune article, have declared that the “current volume of dental practices isn’t sustainable.”

With patient volume plummeting and costs rising, the need for the dental industry to look to innovative solutions like teledentistry to fill the gap has become critical. When the state shut down to address the pandemic, many brick and mortar dentists decided to use teledentistry services to continue patient care. Thankfully, some teledentistry platforms, such as SmileDirectClub operating in California, opened up their telehealth platforms, at no charge, to brick and mortar dentists, so they could continue to serve their patients.

Teledentistry is a safer means of providing care as it limits person-to-person contact, and is more accessible for patients by reducing both cost and location restraints. As we continue to adjust in this COVID-19 world, policymakers should look at further expansions of teledentistry services.

We should encourage more dentists to enhance their practices by using teledentistry platforms and embracing therapies and services that can be done without an in-person visit. This makes oral care more accessible, safe, and affordable for patients while it provides enhanced access to patients for dentists.

This is why we appreciate the wisdom of the California State Senate rejecting legislation that would have created more barriers to teeth straightening services by requiring unnecessary in-person visits. The legislation failed to recognize today’s realities and the need to normalize and expand safe teledentistry practices across the industry.

Expansion will also help to reach communities of color who have traditionally not received the oral care they need due to the costs and accessibility limitations of in-person visits. It will help dentists expand care to new and current patients; especially in these underserved communities. And it will help patients feel safe by limiting person-to-person contact unless it becomes essential for their health care needs.

As we look to 2021, we encourage policymakers to try a teledentistry service, talk to dentists and patients who are using these platforms, and learn how we can make oral care even more accessible and affordable for all.

Editor’s Note: Cameron Demetre is the executive director at TechNet. 

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