What Is Teledentistry? Everything You Need to Know

Wondering what teledentistry is? You’re not alone.

Healthcare providers are finding new and creative ways to safely connect with their patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The result? Novel uses of technology that help maintain the same level of access and quality of care as an in-person visit. While telehealth and telemedicine were both already gaining popularity, 2020 allowed these approaches to service to flourish.
Here’s exactly what teledentistry is, and why it’s here to stay.

What is teledentistry? A major part of the rise of telehealth

Teledentistry is a buzzword in modern dentistry, but what is it?

It is the use of telehealth technologies applied to dentistry. It’s not a service on its own but rather an approach to dentistry using a range of communication technologies. That often takes the form of connecting with healthcare providers remotely through the use of video conferencing, but it might involve other methods, too. That may include:

  • Text or phone
  • Email
  • Real-time chat
  • Private message boards

The American Teledentistry Association reports that some 70 percent of patients are inclined to communicate with their healthcare providers through these means.

The growth of teledentistry is linked to the rise of telehealth and telemedicine – both of which are yet further examples of the accelerated shift toward digital ways of doing business. According to the CDC, in the first three months of 2020 alone, the use of telehealth services increased by 50 percent. That trend held steady throughout 2020 and is estimated to continue to impact the way doctors and dentists alike connect with their patients.

Even before the pandemic, the groundwork had already been laid for a shift toward telehealth and telemedicine. In the U.S. alone, telehealth was already a $2.6 billion industry, with teledentistry comprising 9.2 percent of all telehealth services. Some forecasts predict that teledentistry will continue to grow by 9.4 percent through 2021 and beyond.

How a teledentistry appointment works

Imagine walking into your office and logging onto a video conference call with a patient. You send them a link to the scans of their latest x-ray exam results and then you discuss them together. Based on what you’ve found, you recommend that they schedule an in-person appointment in a week. The entire appointment takes less than 20 minutes – and there’s no office sanitation between meetings required.

That’s what teledentistry is in a snapshot.

These days, teledentistry often takes the form of a “virtual appointment” that patients can book directly on your practice’s website. Many dentists even use it as the initial step for patients when they first notice a problem. During the conference call appointment, dentists can address a wide variety of issues.

You might schedule a teledentistry appointment for issues such as

  • Patient onboarding or dental history consultations
  • Unexplained toothaches or sensitivity
  • Minor toothaches or issues that can be cleared up at home with a few changes
  • Initial consultations for major procedures
  • Results from diagnostics taken in the office
  • Follow-ups after in-person appointments

While teledentistry isn’t meant for dental emergencies, such as fractured crowns or broken jaws, it has allowed patients to get the care they need without exposing themselves to unnecessary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means both patients and dentists can still take steps to maintain their health even while in quarantine or practicing physical distancing.

The benefits of teledentistry for patients and providers

Teledentistry is fantastically convenient for both patients and providers. Not only does it help keep individuals safe by reducing exposure, but it also provides a range of benefits. These include:

  • Increased affordability. According to AARP, teledentistry significantly decreases the costs associated with a dentist visit due to time and resource savings. Teledentistry appointments can range from $10 to $69 depending on the purpose.
  • Enhanced patient satisfaction. Happy patients are return patients. A 2020 study of teledentistry during the COVID-19 pandemic found that patients had positive experiences with virtual clinic visits and phone consultations 94 percent of the time.
  • Faster service. Teledentistry allows your patients to potentially connect with you the same day if necessary, without worrying about rushing across town to an office where they may then face a long wait.
  • The availability of in-office visits as needed. Many practices have reduced the number of in-person patients they see each day to accommodate sanitation procedures or reduce exposure. By allowing patients who don’t require a face-to-face appointment to schedule appointments virtually, you can save in-person appointment slots for those who truly need it.
  • Increased community access for rural patients. At least 60 million Americans live in rural areas, where it can be difficult to access services like dental care.
  • A future-proofed business model. Teledentistry’s growth shows no signs of slowing, suggesting it’s not a pandemic-inspired fad. Implementing virtual appointments can help a practice stay on the forefront of the industry and keep pace with the expectations of patients.

What to consider before embracing teledentistry

Teledentistry can help a dentist’s office stay efficient, safe, and connected with the people who need their services the most. However, teledentistry isn’t without its challenges.
Consider the following when determining if teledentistry is right for your practice:

  • Data security. Staying safe in the digital realm has gotten harder as cyber-criminals have gotten craftier. From using unsecured video conferencing platforms to phishing attacks, teledentistry opens the door for risks that you’ll need to manage to protect sensitive information.
  • Infrastructure. You may need to invest in technology to implement teledentistry services.
  • Your office’s specific needs. The hands-on nature of dentistry can make it difficult to apply in all cases. Consider how many appointments you typically have that don’t require dental work – teledentistry works best in these situations.

Final thoughts

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of our lives, including how we conduct health care. Among the many changes it’s brought include new ways for healthcare professionals and patients to connect. We’ve covered what teledentistry is and why it can become an invaluable tool for both patients and practices alike.

Seeking healthcare during a pandemic doesn’t need to mean an increased risk of exposure. With telehealth and teledentistry, you can deliver your services safely and your practice can thrive.