14:41 PM

How Teledentistry is Changing the Patient-Provider Relationship

New radio interview points out virtual health interactions are up almost 50% — a trend that is likely to mark a new era in oral health 

Across the globe, the pandemic has caused people to change the way they approach everyday tasks — maintaining social distance while on a walk, using contactless delivery services to buy groceries, wearing a mask and gloves on public transportation. It’s changing the way they “see” their health providers, too.  

“We expect there to be a billion telehealth interactions by the end of 2020,” said Dr. Sean Boynes, vice president of health improvement at the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.  

In a recent interview with Health Professional Radio, Dr. Boynes discussed how patients and providers are approaching oral health, and what that means both during and after the pandemic.  

For those of us who didn’t have a chance to listen, here are the takeaways: 

“We’re seeing patients wanting to engage with us in a different way,” said Dr. Boynes, adding “virtual health interactions are up almost 50%.” 

Teledentistry is more than just incorporating technology into regular dental procedures. Teledentistry can be: 

  • a patient using video technology to visit with their provider 

  • providers using a patient portal to share information; or  

  • using a smartphone to support interactions between provider and patient.  

In other words, it encompasses a variety of options that allows flexibility between providers and patients.  

During a time when 35% of people say they’ve already missed a dental appointment due to the pandemic, increased teledentistry access allows dentists to prioritize patients that need urgent and immediate care without needing to physically see their patients, according to Dr. Boynes. 

“If you have an emergency or you’re in pain, we can determine if there’s a need for care,” Dr. Boynes said. “In many cases, individuals who had a teledentistry encounter did not need to actually come in. So, by not coming in, they didn’t risk exposure to COVID and they didn’t waste their time.” 

Of course, teledentistry is not intended to replace regular and routine appointments. It is meant as a way to bridge the gap in access to care and to help reinforce the importance of oral health to overall health. So, while the COVID-19 crisis may have shined a light on teledentistry, it can also serve as a turning point for oral health care delivery moving forward. We’ve seen technology work to connect us when everyone was told to stay home; it still connects us and is particularly helpful for those who are regularly homebound or face barriers to accessing dental care, connecting millions of people with the care they need. 

“Teledentistry isn’t a replacement for going in and seeing the dentist, but it can offer a safe triage for people,” Dr. Boynes said. “We found that in rural environments, in places like nursing homes or assisted living, that this really fills a gap in access to care. When you mix that in with understanding that there is good bacteria and bad bacteria in the mouth, we can talk to patients about health, not just about whether they need a filling or a cleaning, but how to make their mouths healthier.”  

For more resources on practicing teledentistry in the era of COVID-19, including webinars, articles and online learning modules click here