Can teledentistry tackle the big issues in dental care?

Julia Hallisy, DDS, a San Francisco-based dentist, sees clear advantages of teledentistry for diagnostic purposes, especially for pediatric patients.

She shared her perspective on how patients are using teledentistry today as well as the big challenges and opportunities in the future.

Question: How do you anticipate teledentistry evolving in the next few years?

Dr. Julia Hallisy: My impression of teledentistry today is that it has a significant role to play in dental health. That said, it's a new and evolving delivery model that will need structure, oversight and ongoing revisions.

With almost universal cell phone use, most dentists have provided teledentistry opinions and advice for some time. We regularly receive photos from patients or from concerned parents about teeth that have been injured in a sudden accident or regarding oral lesions. A parent who has never experienced an aphthous ulcer is usually very alarmed to see a sore that causes significant distress develop in their child's oral cavity. Parents will contact their dentist in a panic because they think the child has an abscess or other serious infection. Teledentistry can help to alleviate anxiety and stress about oral conditions, keep patients out of emergency rooms and urgent care centers that often cannot help them in any way, and direct them to contact a dentist.

I have seen many patients who have been prescribed a wide variety of antibiotics by medical professionals for viral outbreaks. The antibiotics are not needed, will not treat a viral outbreak and can even contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is an ongoing and significant problem worldwide.

Teledentistry regulations vary widely from state to state. Dentists have to be aware of what their state allows and requires, which is likely to change as teledentistry evolves. I hope that organized dentistry will take the lead on this issue, as dental professionals are the ones who truly understand what care is realistic and safe to deliver via technology. Regulation by other groups of healthcare providers is not likely to result in an organized and comprehensive protocol.

There will always be privacy issues to consider, interoperability and sharing of data with patients, and possibly with other providers, and coordination of care that may involve specialists, both dental and medical.

I'm excited about the possibility of making dentistry accessible to more people, of meeting patients' needs whenever and wherever they may be, and of being able to inform and educate patients about their current dental health and ongoing needs.

The level of dental health in our country is generally quite poor. Periodontal disease, tooth decay, tooth loss that impairs adequate nutrition and dry mouth from medications are at levels that continue to compromise the overall health and well-being of a great percentage of our population. Time will tell if teledentistry can make an impact in these front-line issues

More articles on teledentistry:
Dr. Raul Escalante: How teledentistry will evolve
6 benefits of teledentistry, per ATDA
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