Is Teledentistry the New Norm for the Dental Industry?

Almost 10 years ago, roughly around 2013, the Telehealth services was projected to have up to a quarter of a million patients (250,000) at the time. These were active patients that saw both the convenience and efficiency of telehealth services on a routine basis. Thereby, reducing the cost of both time and money spent to get required follow up services for their treatments.

During 2013, there were well over 50% of hospitals making use of some sort of telehealth service. With hundreds to thousands more beginning the process to get in the telehealth game. Since the advent of adequate technologies for video communications, the number of hospitals that began to make use of telehealth services ballooned in a 5-year span. There were between 250K patients in 2013 to about an estimated 3.2 million patients on 2018, that were taking advantage of Telehealth services.

Under COVID-19 lockdowns, it seems that similar trends are now picking up in the dental industry. Gone are the days of traditional aesthetic and functional dentistry methods as described in the “History of Aesthetic Dentistry”. While not all has changed, you can see areas where improvements have been implemented to deal with a viral outbreak.

How does this technology affect the dental industry in a post COVID age, where distancing still seems to be the outcry coming from the government’s health apparatus? You’ll run into a few benefits and pitfalls of this technology listed below.

 

What is Teledentistry?

Teledentistry is traditionally known as the use of electronic data related information such as video communication, electronic communication, imaging and more, that all aim to facilitate the delivery of dental care services such as treatments (under certain circumstances), dental education, consultations, patient support and much more.

The use of Teledentistry will inevitably increase however, Teledentistry, like many other telehealth services will be limited to an extent. For example, it is economically convenient and efficient to use Teledentistry for patient follow ups after dental treatment or a surgical procedure. However, it would be both inefficient and highly unwise to use Teledentistry to diagnose a problem associated with a tooth ache, an abscess, or a potential root canal.

 

Some of the benefits of Teledentistry are:

  • It coincides with patient’s necessities.
  • It provides another level of innovation for the dental industry.
  • Helps improve a patient’s dental hygiene if they can’t afford an in-person meeting.
  • Teledentistry won’t break the bank.
  • More dental patients will have access to proper oral care.
  • Opens up in-office visits to those who require it the most.
  • Employees visiting the dentist will spend less time.
  • For specific services only, there should not be a decrease in the level of care.

 

The Benefits of Teledentistry

In the list of benefits that Teledentistry can provide, coinciding with a patient’s need is essential when possible. While a patient may not always know what their dental needs are, after proper consultation, a progressive plan for treatment or maintenance can be recommended.

This added level of innovation allows a patient to better plan their day, meet workload requirements or properly take care of a family at home, while getting professional dental advice, follow up and education. Additionally, for those patients that find it difficult to acquire the necessary funds for proper dental treatment, Teledentistry can help provide comprehensive dental care while avoiding a squeeze on their pocketbook.

While this type of tech advancement may take care of many problems riddled across the dental industry as a whole, it is not the end-all, be-all of dental procedures and hands-on approach to treatment. It is merely an added bonus to help increase productivity at dental practices, while providing a patient with professional service in the fastest time possible. This is also a great tool for emergency dental services that tend to happen by surprise, or in a moment notice.

 

What is the Cost of Teledentistry?

On a recent abstract on the “Cost Savings from a Teledentistry Model for School Dental Screening”, done from an Australian Health System perspective, there is a considerable savings in services provided. Through Teledentistry, the abstract highlights an annual reduction in dental services cost of up to $85 million in total.

Out of the $85 million, a little over $1 million was spent on Teledentistry fixed cost. While over half of the savings were on staff salary. According to the report, most savings were attributed to low salaried dental therapist and the lack of travel and accommodations expenses.

 

The Reality of Teledentistry

While Teledentistry is still in its infancy, unlike Telehealth, which is across the Nation for most general medical services. This segment of Telehealth is most beneficial to those in rural areas. Most dentist in urban or suburban locations would agree that to properly get diagnosed for treatment and recommendations, nothing works as goods as an in-person consultation.

The shape and motion of the mouth is such that a Dentist could only give you the best diagnosis if they can thoroughly inspect the areas of the mouth which are extremely difficult to do via a camera.

Since most urban and suburban locations don’t seem to have the distance problem, it would be wisely suggested that you make a direct visit to your dentist instead of chancing it with Teledentistry. This service is more suitable for someone in a remote location.

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