During the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine has shot to the forefront of health-care options — and that includes dentistry.
Teledentistry is the use of telehealth systems and methodologies in dentistry. In addition to providing in-person care, dentists can provide remote care using telehealth capabilities. Teledentistry allows remote and long-distance patient and clinician communication, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring and triage to determine, coordinate and direct dental care visits.
Teledentistry isn’t a specific service; rather, it’s a collection of means to enhance dental care and dental education delivery. It can have both synchronous and asynchronous applications.
Synchronous refers to a real-time encounter, when a patient connects with a dentist, dental specialist, remote oral health care provider or, in some cases, another health care provider. There are a number of platforms that can make this happen, including Zoom meetings. Other options include services such as Dental Monitoring, Dentulu, Teledentix and OralEye. This type of appointment has become increasingly popular and can help determine if an in-person office visit is necessary.
Aynchronous teledentistry is when a doctor or provider receives a patient’s data to review it at his or her convenience. This is increasingly being used for digital dental alignment techniques; it allows patients to extend in-person appointments to every 16 weeks or so. There’s no need for patients to be present when doctors perform their “consultations” by reviewing the patient’s data.
There are many other advantages of teledentistry, including the ability to improve access to, and delivery of, oral health care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, treatment and assessment can be done from afar, which mitigates the risks of exposure. Plus, it can help patients with busy schedules fit in dental care.
Fascinating new and emerging technologies have been developed, and these should further solidify teledentisty’s role in the future of dental care. For example, a Portland, Oregon, start up, S-Ray Inc, has designed and developed technology using ultrasound dental scanning (non-X-ray) to view intra and perioral soft tissue structures and teeth. One of S-ray’s patented technologies is an at-home dental arch scanning device, which connects to a smartphone interface. A specially designed app downloaded to a patient’s smartphone enables him or her to remotely “scan” their teeth in minutes. The scan can then be forwarded to a dentist or processing service and used for diagnosis and treatment planning. It can also be integrated with a 3D platform for printing tooth models to design and fabricate at-home dental aligners.
Dentistry is changing dramatically, and we have yet to see how far advances will stretch. This new way of engaging patients in dental care may move beyond a pandemic necessity to a prefered means to deliver, and receive, care.
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