TeleDentistry – After the Masks Come Off

I’m feeling pretty good. It’s two weeks past my second Covid-19 vaccine. It’s gotten me thinking. When will I no longer need to wear my mask in a crowd? And what will this mean for teledentistry?

For the Patient

According to Becker’s Hospital Review1 in March 2020, 19.5 percent of Americans had a telehealth appointment, whereas 61.05 percent had in March 2021. This is also true for teledentistry where most patients have now had a previous telehealth experience, and almost always a positive one. In March 2020, 65.6 percent of Americans doubted the care quality provided in telehealth appointments, but in March 2021, 87.82 percent wanted to continue using telehealth services after the pandemic subsides. Patients do not want to always travel for their medical appointments, and they do not want to wait in a (crowded?) waiting room.

Benefits are also significant for the patient population, or specific classes of patients. The great benefit of telehealth has always been improved access. This is especially true in rural areas where a visit to the dentist may mean a trip of many hours.   The elderly, and patients with disabilities or special needs are most likely to benefit the most from a remote visit.   There are cost reductions for patients, especially those without insurance. Insurance companies benefit by keeping patients out of the emergency room. Oral hygiene can be improved reducing more serious diseases which are likely to occur if oral health issues are ignored. A visit with a teledentist is much less intimidating for a patient who has always been afraid of what may happen in the dentists’ office.

For the Dentist

While the greatest impact of Covid-19 on dental practices has been a drop in revenue, At least one study has reported that the drop was less than had been anticipated.2 In any case, teledentistry can help to make up the difference.

Teledentistry provides great benefits for individual dentists.

  1. Use teledentistry to screen patients and maximize chair time with those patients that need a procedure.
  2. Attract and meet new patients using teledentistry and meet them face-to-face and not behind PPE.
  3. Integrate teledentistry into your practice management system and provide patient education and scheduling reminders.
  4. Create the ability to consult with a specialist in real time, and with the patient included.

One expression that many dentists hear now is ‘mask mouth.’ The phrase refers to a range of symptoms associated with wearing a face mask around your mouth for long periods. It’s not an official diagnosis, but it’s become a common phrase used to describe the rise in dental problems that have resulted from increased mask-wearing. There may also be specific procedure (like teeth whitening) that become even more popular as patients no longer “put off” procedure and plan to return to their regular routines.

There are also benefits for specific groups of dentists, namely those recently retired or dentists who have become disabled. What a great way to continue to use the skills developed over a lifetime of practice without the burden of managing an office.

For the Future

Teledentistry is one of a variety of technologies that have been identified (by MedCity News) as having the most likely ability to shape the future of dentistry over the next ten years. The list also included 3D Printing, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Dentistry, Tooth Remineralization and Augmented Reality. You can read the whole article here:
https://medcitynews.com/2021/04/trends-in-the-dental-industry-dental-technology-in-the-next-decade/

 

More immediately, 2021 will see expansion of teledentistry in areas are medical-dental integration, e-commerce (via the expanded selling of dental products to patients and dentists), electronic claims processing and further integration with electronic health records. The TeleDentists will be leading the way.

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/telehealth/how-american-attitudes-on-telehealth-have-changed-since-the-start-of-the-pandemic.html
  2. https://www.dentistryiq.com/practice-management/industry/article/14200344/in-2020-dental-practice-revenue-declined-6
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