Teledentistry is the use of telehealth in the dental industry. Telehealth is a digital communication technology used to coordinate and deliver health care services.
Teledentistry refers to the virtual communication between dentists and patients. During these appointments, a patient sends in photos for the dentist to examine.
Then the dentist provides virtual care and education on the dental issue(s) at hand. Teledentists can also refer patients to in-person dentists as needed.
Teledentistry has an enormous potential to increase the reach and quality of dental care.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA):
"...examinations performed using teledentistry can be an effective way to extend the reach of dental professionals, increasing access to care by reducing the effect of distance barriers to care. Teledentistry has the capability to expand the reach of a dental home to provide needed dental care to a population within reasonable geographic distances and varied locations where the services are rendered."— ADA Policy on Teledentistry
Teledentistry is typically carried out in one of the following modalities:
Synchronous means 'at the same time.' This refers to live video or phone calls between a patient and dental provider. Video conferencing is the most common telehealth method.
This real-time interaction mimics a normal visit that takes place in a dental office. It makes it possible for patients to undergo examinations and follow-up appointments at home.
It is the legal responsibility of the dental practice to ensure that their technology, examinations, and records are HIPAA compliant to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan.
The dentist can then prescribe medications, recommend at-home solutions, or refer the patient for in-person care.
Asynchronous communication refers to sending and storing health information via secure communication systems.*
Common documents include:
This dental information is used by a practitioner to evaluate a patient's condition. It can be sent anytime and doesn't need to be communicated during a live interaction.
* The hardware and software used must be HIPAA compliant
Remote patient monitoring is used to provide care or support from a different location. Personal and medical data is collected and digitally transferred to a provider. The patient may be located in their home or another healthcare facility (such as a hospital).
This allows the dental health care provider to monitor a patient's progress remotely. They may include video chats as a part of their care delivery system. They can make any changes to their treatment regimen remotely.
Mobile health refers to any health care or public health practice supported by mobile phones or tablets.
With the rapid global integration of mobile phones into our daily lives, this is a primary focus of health care providers and educators.
Teledentistry services are already becoming popular in certain areas.
Here are some ways in which teledentistry is already being employed and ways it may become more popular in the near future:
Many private practice dentists and dental specialists are adopting telemedicine. Many offer video chat consultations or follow-up appointments to their patients.
In addition, teledentistry allows oral health care providers to create networks quickly and easily.
The digitalization of dental records and services has provided a communication system that can connect patients to the specialists they need more efficiently than traditional methods.
Teledentistry is becoming integrated into public health systems as well, though more slowly.
Mobile Hygiene programs have been added to some schools. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) also have opportunities to integrate teledentistry into their practices.
Teledentistry could be used for dental hygiene education or to connect people in rural areas with dental providers where access to care is limited.
The delivery of services via teledentistry must comply with the state’s scope of practice laws, regulations, or rules. This means the dentist must have a license in good standing with the dental board. It must also be in the same state as the patient.
In the U.S., there is not a single federal dental license, allowing dentists to practice anywhere in the country.
Some states (like Texas and Maine) do not allow the practice of teledentistry because their regulatory agency rules require tactile and visual examinations for the diagnosis of dental problems.
Dental care providers can also connect with other medical professionals. Your oral health and general health are intrinsically linked.
Connecting dental professionals with medical professionals creates the opportunity for better all-around care.
It can also reduce the time between care and eliminate the need for patients to travel to different locations for treatment.
Certain dental services, including teeth straightening and teeth whitening, allow opportunities for direct-to-consumer treatment.
Until recently, these services were only provided by dental offices. Now, telehealth companies are offering these same treatments at greatly reduced prices.
For more information on clear aligner teeth straightening services, read our overview of the clear aligner procedure, costs, and popular brand reviews.
For more information on at-home teeth whitening, read our review of the best teeth whitening kits to use.
Getting second opinions on potential dental work is another effective and useful teledentistry service. In the past, patients would have to set up an appointment with a different dentist to receive a second opinion. These appointments are often inconvenient and pricey.
However, using a teledentistry service to get a second opinion is convenient and affordable. You can easily connect with a dentist (from anywhere in the world), making it easy to find an expert who specializes in your specific dental procedure.
Not only does this process save time, but it also provides you with feedback from a broader range of dentists. You can also ask them about any other oral health concerns you may have, all without leaving your house.
Some teledentistry platforms offer concierge services. Instead of setting up an online appointment, a dental professional will be sent to your home. This dental service is convenient for those with disabilities or injuries.
If you have a minor dental issue such as a toothache, you can connect with an online dentist at any time. They can provide you with tips to reduce discomfort, prescribe medications (if needed), and help you find a dentist in your area.
Other non-emergency dental problems include small tooth chips, sensitive teeth, and loose restorations (e.g., fillings, crowns, and bridges).
Teledentistry is a controversial topic among dentists, public health officials, and state regulatory agencies.
Though it has limitations, the need for the dental industry to integrate teledentistry services is obvious. It remains an ever-evolving branch of dentistry.
Video consultations can help people undergoing a dental emergency. A quick video call with a dentist could provide the patient with vital information that gives them a clear path ahead or even saves their life.
Many patients are unsure if their condition is considered an emergency. In many cases, urgent care is not necessary. Teledentistry could save these patients a costly trip to the emergency room with a video conference and follow-up dental appointment.
When a patient does experience a true dental emergency, teledentistry can get them medication or refer them to an urgent care facility immediately.
During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, teledentistry has played a vital role. It has helped keep patients with dental problems out of crowded hospitals and emergency rooms. It also has allowed high-risk patients to make dental appointments while staying home.
As the world shifts toward more remote work, products, and services, telehealth will take on a much more prominent role.
There has been a rapid change in health services caused by the need to reduce occupancy, follow social-distancing protocols and travel restrictions, and keep vulnerable populations protected.
This change has opened the door for modifications of the traditional health care models. Teledentistry will be one of the branches of health care that drives innovation and progress.
Jampani, N D et al. “Applications of teledentistry: A literature review and update.” Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry vol. 1,2 (2011): 37-44. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.97695. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3894070/
ADA Policy on Teledentistry, American Dental Association, 2020, www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-positions-policies-and-statements/statement-on-teledentistry.