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Dental Distancing: How COVID-19 Is Shaping the Future of Teledentistry

 

Depending on where your dental practice is located, you’ve likely reopened — but notice that patients are hesitant to visit your practice in-person.

 

These fears aren’t unfounded. The CDC’s COVID-19 Infection Prevention Team warns that dental settings have unique characteristics that warrant specific infection control considerations. Being in an environment where instruments create visible sprays with particle droplets of saliva, blood, and microorganisms feels risky, even where case numbers are low.

 

Now, we’d be remiss in failing to mention how there haven't been any COVID cases connected to dental practices as of yet. But with surfaces potentially being contaminated for 3 hours, industry professionals need to find a way to treat clients who refuse to visit their offices.

 

What can fill this gap in dental care?

 

Increasingly, it looks like teledentistry might be the answer.

 

What is Teledentistry?

 

Teledentistry applies the same principles of telehealth, except with the scope only revolving around oral health.

 

This kind of care utilizes various technologies to provide dental care and education to treat patients remotely.

 

Through the following methods (and more), dental professionals can provide “tele-dental” services to their patients:

  • Live video
    • This can happen with either Skype, Zoom, or other video-chat technology, and it happens in real-time.
  • Store and forward
    • Patients store and send their health information via radiographs, photographs, video, digital impressions, and photomicrographs to their practitioners.
    • The practitioner looks at this information at a different time than when it's sent (so, it's not in real-time).
  •  Remote Patient monitoring
    • Different dental practices can share information (usually through data processing services) to provide supportive care or direct care.
  • Mobile health
    • Mobile communication devices such as cell phones, tablet computers, and personal digital assistants (PDA) can help support dental care.

The Future of Teledentistry

 

Eventually, there will be a vaccine for COVID. At that point, fears over the virus will begin to subside. However, that doesn’t mean that teledentistry is only temporary.

 

Once you’ve shown patients the capabilities of teledentistry, it’s akin to opening Pandora’s box. Sure, there’s going to be instances where in-person visits are unavoidable. Yet research shows that patient success-rates are the same when they use telehealth compared to when they don’t.

 

Therefore, this convenient form of care doesn’t seem to come at the cost of quality.

 

There’s also the matter of general dental anxiety. Some patients fear oral care for reasons outside of the pandemic. Teledentistry provides these people with an option to avoid dealing with the stress of in-person visits. 

 

It seems like teledentistry will remain a significant part of many practices, even when everything returns to "normal."

 

The Long-Term Benefits of Teledentistry

 

Let’s take a look at the benefits that clearly outline why teledentistry is here to stay:

 

1. Reducing Overhead Costs

 

Virtual consultations manage to mitigate potential miscalculations for appointment times. The nature of emergency treatments isn’t always apparent when only a phone call is involved, leading to dentists blocking off too much time. Similar missteps occur with more straightforward visits for prescriptions.

 

Knowing how long appointments streamlines that day and ensures time is being spent most efficiently. Plus, prescribing medications during virtual calls opens up chair-time to patients who need it.

 

2. Removing Geographical Limitations

 

Teledentistry can be a fantastic boon for people that live in communities with limited access to dental care. They can receive guidance and prescriptions to better their oral health while at home or in the office. That's a far more realistic option than driving 2 hours for a half-hour examination!

 

Moreover, it gives you a chance to expand your patient-base by offering routine care to people who usually can't access it.

 

3. Improving the Patient Experience

 

Many patients are incredibly busy with their work and family. Teledentistry will meet these people in the middle. They won’t need to block off big chunks of time to drive and sit around at the office on top of the appointment.

 

Other patients lack transportation, and teledentistry offers them an alternative to paying an expensive cab fare or bothering someone for a ride.

 

Teledentistry Will Revolutionize the Dental Industry

 

You’ll want to strike while the iron is hot with teledentistry because it’s not going anywhere — even when the pandemic is long gone. As technology advances and patients begin to expect more from their dental care, adopting this technology will be a primary component of any thriving practice.

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