Dentistry is a very socially interactive profession. COVID-19 has changed our abilities to interact completely. Never in our wildest dreams would any of us ever predicted to be in this circumstance today. It would be impossible to predict exactly how this will impact dentistry, but one thing we know for sure is that it will change us.
In our world of dentistry, we have several “touch points” throughout the day to interact and care for one another. This is our profession; this is what we thrive on. This is who we are and are proud to be. Today, and certainly not forever, this is all gone. We need to, as integral members of the regulated healthcare professions, rise up and maintain contact through social distance for the sake of our patients, our teams, our businesses and our own mental health. This is critical and it is doable.
There are several ways in which we may engage in meaningful interaction with one another. Regular contact with our team members is vital to giving our lives purpose and a sense of normalcy. The time on our hands provides us with a wonderful opportunity to be educated as a team, to evaluate our systems and ensure we are following current guidelines. This opportunity is a gift and something we rarely have time for in our busy clinical schedules.
Our websites and social media channels can be ways in which we remain in contact with our patients. Posting information that will help them sustain their oral health at home in the absence of regular care is so important. For instance, April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Teach your patients how to check their mouth at home for the early signs of oral cancer through the “Check Your Mouth” website: checkyourmouth.org. Light heartedness is also a gift we may give at this time. It is not frivolous or foolish to maintain a sense of humour at a time when we feel fearful; it is a necessity.
Keeping in contact with our team members through online meeting platforms such as ZOOM provides us with connection. We must guard our emotional and mental health at this time. We may be unaware as to how self-isolation may be affecting a team member and in particular one who lives alone or is isolating with a partner in a difficult relationship. We must give one another hope and a strong sense of a future.
We also need to consider our patients such as the one who may be experiencing a dental issue. These concerns can be daunting and may just be the tipping point. As a dental professional we often know the exact etiology the moment we glance inside the oral cavity or hear the symptoms described. So how do we maintain social distance and yet alleviate the anxiety our dental patients may be experiencing?
The answer is one word: Teledentistry. Telemedicine and Teledentistry will be the future. COVID-19 has just advanced these two platforms ahead of their anticipated debut. The future is NOW. Case in point, my husband was contacted by his dermatologist and informed that the practice would be closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Permission has been provided to share this story as it had such a profound impact. A request was then received to send in any photos of areas that were of concern via email. He has a history of basal cell carcinoma and was on a six-month recall for ongoing assessments. The photos were captured with TELScope, an intraoral telehealth examination device and accompanying.
Refer to Figure 1 to view one of the photos submitted. A call was set up the next day, the dermatologist had reviewed the images and confirmed that there were no areas he had any concern over. A follow up appointment was scheduled a few months later when predictably the COVID-19 pandemic would have resolved. The result: my husband’s concerns were diminished and put to rest and he felt connectivity with the practice. There also is the strong result of sustaining a passive revenue stream amidst this crisis.
Dentistry is in the same situation. Do we sit by and allow dental practices to slowly dissolve or do we look for innovative ways with the use of advances in technology to sustain ourselves? Do we subject our dental patients to overcrowded emergency treatment rooms? Do we continue to overburden frontline medical healthcare professionals with oral health issues that dentistry is better equipped to handle? The question is real, and the answer is your choice.
Teledentistry is the practice of dentistry and dental care at a distance. Dentists who practice within the platform of Teledentistry must adhere to the same Standards of Practice and the professional, legal and ethical obligations that apply to oral health care. The storage of patient information must continue to possess privacy and security settings in accordance with the Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2004. Strong encryption must be used where personal health information is stored and/or transmitted.
Our patients don’t understand the different between essential and non-essential dentistry. An area of pain or the finding of an abnormal oral lesion can be very stressful to our patients. Figures 2 and 3 were obtained using Throat Scope, an all-in-one illuminated tongue depressor as a retraction tool and the TELScope app. The photos provide an example of areas of concern that our dental patients may have in the absence of regular dental care. We understand the nature of this type of complaint and through a visual assessment can make recommendations that will alleviate the anxiety.
It is time to move this along through regulations and mitigate the damage that will ensue post Pandemic. A time to be proactive not reactive. A time to pivot before it is too late. A COVID world is a different world for all of us and a post-COVID world will be altogether different again. Dental patients will have heightened fears surrounding infection control and will need to be reassured. Many may prefer to go the route of Teledentistry first before scheduling an appointment that is not a dental emergency.
There are several things I hope we have learned when we all emerge from this. The first is that our basic needs are just that: basic. Our real superheroes in life are not our professional athletes and celebrities; they are our frontline workers that sacrificed in order for us to be as safe as possible and alive today. Beauty is not purchased or added on, it comes from within. Lastly, there is one thing to place at the forefront of all our actions: kindness. Stay well. Stay safe and stay home.
Disclaimer: A registrant is advised to consult with their respective regulatory body as to the legal and ethical considerations for using Teledentistry. Members are to contact their respective dental associations for questions/clarification regarding procedure codes under their Suggested Fee Guide.
About the Author
Jo-Anne Jones, President, RDH Connection Inc. is a successful entrepreneur and international, award winning speaker. Jo-Anne has been selected as one of DPR’s Top 25 Women in Dentistry and is a returning 2017 Dentistry Today CE Leader for the 7th consecutive year. Jo-Anne is president of an educational and clinical training company and a sought after writer for leading dental journals and publications across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Her frank and open style of lecturing complemented by the provision of clinical resources has earned many loyal followers. She may be contacted at email@example.com