The utility of teledentistry: 2 dentist perspectives

Teledentistry presents new opportunities for dentists to connect with patients, but its usefulness is limited with current technology.

Two private practice dentists shared their perspectives on teledentistry with Becker's.

Question: What is your impression of teledentistry today?

John Osborn, DDS. Owner of Osborn Family Dentistry (Maynardville, Tenn.) and Dental Director and Secretary of Remote Area Medical (Rockford, Tenn.): I think teledentistry has great potential, but I'm not sure most dental professionals know what benefits it offers yet. Chair time is a valuable commodity, and virtual dental care can help improve access by reserving in-office visits for actual treatment. Triage, preop medical history, presenting treatment plans and postop questions can be addressed without requiring patients to be physically present.

At Remote Area Medical, we started a telehealth program last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and one problem we experienced right away was that state practice laws require that the patient be physically in the state where the provider is licensed. Since most people keep their cellphone number even after they move out of state, it can be quite challenging to verify residence and current location in order to comply with state law.

Misako Hirota, DMD. Private Practice (National City, Calif.): While teledentistry has gotten much hype, in practical terms it is limited due to the nature of dentistry. If you have an emergency, you can have a video conference call with the patient before prescribing to meet standard of care requirements. This may save you a trip into the office on a weekend but that is about all you can do. You can try and diagnose, but without a radiograph, you are guessing, and most patients are not good at pinpointing a problem tooth until it gets severe.

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

MH: We may perform more perfunctory things such as meet-and-greet before an actual appointment, but it will only be helpful in ways in which it is being utilized now. Currently, teledentistry is used for patients who are homebound or in a nursing home, board and care, and remote facilities in which an auxiliary is on-site, and the dentist is diagnosing or consulting with the auxiliary. If the auxiliary is a [non-physician] provider, the dentist acts as the supervisory during the procedure or offers guidance.

More articles on teledentistry:
Can teledentistry tackle the big issues in dental care?
Dr. Raul Escalante: How teledentistry will evolve
SmileDirectClub partners with New York DSO

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