Future of Teledentistry in the Post-Pandemic World

by Rahul Varshneya, Arkenea

Dentists are sailing past the uncharted waters of teledentistry at a rapid pace amid the COVID-19 health emergency that has taken practices across the globe by storm.  With this technology, dental health professionals are proactively reaching out to and helping patients that require care. 

Right from preventing disturbances in the flow of orthodontic treatment to triaging patients in need of emergency care, teledentistry is proving to be extremely advantageous. 

Although this technology has managed to garner positive feedback from oral health professionals across the US, the important question that lies ahead is: what exactly is in store for teledentistry and how feasible is it truly going to be to practice once the world recovers from the aftermath of the pandemic?

Read on to know!

Impact of COVID-19 on the field of dentistry

The adoption of teledentistry has increased considerably during the current healthcare crisis. This enabled patients to safely discuss dental problems or concerns with their dentists from the comfort of their homes and greatly helped in ensuring access to care in spite of global lockdowns. 

Additionally, relaxations in telemedicine requirements at the federal level led to a number of major insurance carriers acknowledging the benefits that come alongside the use of teledentistry and supporting payment of claims for such integrated care delivery models, which wasn’t standard in the past.

Dentists are increasingly looking for effective mediums to connect with patients in need of care.

Dr. Jacob Berger, DMD of Smiles at Lakewood Ranch in Florida, realized that patients want to be able to connect with their clinical provider. 

Right now, patients are craving a personal touch. Adding teledentistry to my already varied offerings was just what my patients needed to feel reassured. That was especially important during this crisis. I was so pleased to see signs of relief on their faces by the time we completed our first virtual consultation. Patients need doctors who are forward thinking and willing to reach out in a new way as our situation evolves,” he told PR Newswire in a recent interview.

A recent Consumer Survey by American Well revealed that close to 66% of adults hadn’t been to the dentist in the past 12 months (preceding the month in which the survey was conducted). Teledentistry has helped fill the gap. While some dentists took to using off-the-shelf telemedicine software to offer teledentistry, others started to look at custom telemedicine app development as a tool to rekindle that connection with their patients. Telemedicine has actually emerged as an valuable add-on to in-person dental visits. 

Dr. Anna Singh, DMD, Vice President of Clinical Training and Development, strongly backs this. In her interview with PR Newswire, she explains that telehealth adds a feasible alternative for patients trying to gain access to dental care – especially for the ones who may be fearful of visiting the dentist, or are otherwise unable to visit the doctor.

This secure platform, integrated with proven processes of traditional dental care, provides our supported doctors the ability to quickly and easily interact with their patients to assess oral health, discuss concerns, and plan a course of action regarding treatment,” says Dr. Singh. “Fully integrating this technology will significantly improve our existing model of care for the future.

So, we know that a lot of dentists have leveraged telehealth to deliver virtual care during the pandemic and are completely satisfied with the end result. But, will they continue to use this model or will it get abandoned altogether once the world is out of the pandemic’s aftermath?

What Does the Future Hold?

In August last year, DentaQuest Partnership surveyed more than 2500 dental providers in close to 20 states about their teledentistry usage. The survey revealed that 75% of dental providers who use teledentistry expect their virtual visit volume to either stay the same or increase during the next twelve months.

A lot of dental health professionals who have leveraged this model now believe that teledentistry represents the next phase of oral healthcare and possesses extraordinary potential when it comes to ameliorating dental treatments of the near future.

Dr. Nestor Villarreal, DDS, of Bellaire Bay Dental Care in Naples, Florida is one such individual. 

With my current concerns of keeping patients and their families safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, teledentistry enables me to provide safe consultations and dental care to those who otherwise might have to wait for treatment. 

Reassuring patients with live video allows me to evaluate emergencies and provide care instructions. As I look to the future, I believe teledentistry will help dental professionals build healthier communities by expanding the reach and capabilities of traditional dental practices,Dr. Villarreal explains.

In a recent article published on Dental Tribune International, two highly established dentists- UK-based Dr Yasmin George and Australia’s Dr Jalal Khan- shared their experiences implementing teledentistry. 

Dr. George defined a certain instance in which she had, with the help of a phone camera, instructed a patient’s husband on how to temporarily seal off the former’s broken tooth “with a bit of filling material”.

Both Dr. Khan and Dr. George asserted that they would carry on with offering teledentistry services, peculiarly during the pre-diagnostic stages of treatment.

The pandemic is not likely to end anytime soon, and in-office dental check-ups will continue to be sparse. The potential for teledentistry at this stage is pretty straightforward. 

Now is the time to innovate, to formulate a fresh model for oral healthcare, one that will be efficient, cost-effective, and more impartial for all. What the industry is witnessing at this point in time is that telehealth adoption and application is rapidly becoming instrumental for dentists to provide care that is based on disease prevention and whole-person health.

As the industry begins to embrace value-based care, telehealth can provide additional revenue while augmenting dental care access for new and existing patients. This trend can also mitigate costs by providing access to preventive and primary care, and keeping patients out of EDs for non-emergency dental cases.

Progressive organizations should be on the lookout for new technologies and solutions that can help streamline their workflows and make care delivery more efficient. For example, integrating a dental software with your teledentistry platform can make data management a lot less troublesome for you.

Finally, as the teledentistry model continues to expand, enduring policy changes are necessary for the extensive adoption of teledentistry-enabled preventive services and care coordination.

State policymakers and oral health providers should act right away to make sure that the policies they formulate hereon permit members of the dental workforce to deliver telehealth services and simultaneously update reimbursement policies so that both private and public insurers can cover remote provider-patient interactions through conventional or store-and-forward mechanisms.

As we continue to leverage telehealth as a limited-time solution during the pandemic, we must also make sure it is durable to make it an integral part of the dental ecosystem moving forward. We need to constantly be on the lookout for new ways to adopt and innovate in telehealth.

This means we need to take the necessary steps, and we need to take them right now!

About the Author

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder and president of Arkenea, a digital health consulting firm. Rahul has been featured as a technology thought leader across Bloomberg TV, Forbes, HuffPost, Inc, among others.

Interested in contributing to Oral Health Group’s blog? Email marley@newcom.ca for more information!