Why Teledentistry Will Help Shape the Future of Oral Health

Dental care in the United States has been changing, gradually, in the last decade. New treatments, new payment models, and new technologies have been shifting providers away from the surgical management of oral disease to a greater focus on prevention and health promotion.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, and, by necessity, the industry stepped on the gas pedal. Questions became realities. Promising ideas became protocols. The shift accelerated.

And, now, the industry is faced with a question: What will the new future of care look like in—and beyond—the dental chair in a still uncertain future?

Teledentistry will be part of that answer.

What’s next for teledentistry? Three new CareQuest Institute visual reports lay out a potential future that positions it as a tool to improve access to care and health outcomes even after the pandemic ends.

Teledentistry: What to Know & How It Works

This report aggregates highlights from several surveys and reports to show how teledentistry is growing across different US states, the services teledentistry supports, and both provider and patient perspectives on the technology. Of note:

  • In a survey from August 2020, nearly a quarter of dental providers were seeing patients via telehealth platforms.
  • In that same survey, public health dental providers were twice as likely as all other practice types to use telehealth.
  • In a survey from June 2020, 86% of patients said they were satisfied with their overall teledentistry experience and would recommend teledentistry to another person.

The infographic also highlights several examples of community-based programs, health centers, health systems, and private practices that are making use of teledentistry to help reduce barriers to care.

Teledentistry: Removing Barriers and Moving Toward Implementation

This report explores variety of state-level barriers stand in the way of teledentistry’s continued expansion. It reviews an overview of the current landscape, barriers, potential solutions, and action steps related to teledentistry. Recommendations include:

  • Create State Practice Acts that permit each dental provider to practice to the full extent of their credentials and to provide care in community settings.
  • Update reimbursement policies to allow coverage for teledentistry beyond the current pandemic and to stipulate parity regardless of whether the procedure or service is provided via teledentistry or in person.
  • Address and clarify legal issues regarding liability and data security.

Teledentistry Use Beyond the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted inequities in the United States and, at the same time, increased awareness of technologies that can help address those inequities. Even after the pandemic, teledentistry can be useful in a variety of settings and situations. For instance, providers can use teledentistry when patients cannot be present, for various reasons, in a traditional office setting. Providers can also use teledentistry in the traditional office setting to connect a patient’s caregiver to the dental team in the operatory to review findings and discuss treatment plans.

This report explores four reasons why teledentistry is here to stay. Teledentistry:

  • Helps states be better prepared to weather a crisis
  • Can increase convenience and reduce costs for consumers and states
  • Helps expand the reach of care
  • Is being embraced by patients

Together, the three reports highlight the value and potential of teledentistry at this unique moment. Teledentistry could significantly expand oral care access for underserved populations, help prioritize dental chair time for the highest-risk patients, and keep low-risk patients healthy and safe.