Teledentistry is Lowering Costs and Increasing Oral Health Access for Millions
Dr. Paul Glassman hopes lowered barriers and costs through Teledentistry will ensure everyone gets the preventive care they need.
Dr. Paul Glassman has seen firsthand how powerful Preventistry® can be. For the first 20 years of his career as a dentist, Glassman treated patients who’d missed out on preventive care along the way and were, as he put it, at the end of a long period of deterioration. Hospital admissions and anesthesia were often the only option — until teledentistry changed that.
Glassman now leads a policy and public health research center at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, aiming to bring teledentistry — the practice of remotely delivering dental care — to underserved communities. A leader in the field, he’s witnessed patients get treated earlier, more affordably and more comfortably. He’s seen people with mental disabilities receive treatment in their own living rooms, and underprivileged children transition from tears to smiles when meeting a hygienist for the first time at their local Head Start center.
Tell us about a patient you or your team have worked with who’s benefited from teledentistry?
There’s a young man in his mid-20s with intellectual disabilities who’d had all his previous dental care done under general anesthesia in a hospital. A dental office wasn’t an option — it was new, he couldn’t understand what was going on, and the dentist looked at him and said, “I can’t work on him. I’ll never be able to treat him in my dental chair.”
And yet the photograph I have is of a dental hygienist in [this young man’s] living room — him sitting in his favorite chair where he watches TV. The hygienist is taking X-rays and was able to clean his teeth and provide full preventive services in his home. It’s possible this young man may never have to go back to the operating room for dental care again.
How does teledentistry help vulnerable communities?
If you ask people who are not getting dental care why they’re not, the most common answer is that it costs too much. We’ve had a dental industry that’s trended toward serving the wealthiest people in the country, who are also the healthiest — the people who need that care the least.
By being able to bring care to places that are not getting care, and to lower the cost of doing it, we have the potential for a dental industry that can get back to serving the majority of the population again.
How have you seen teledentistry impact the dental practices that offer it?
Some dentists hear about expanding the scope of their practice for dental hygienists, for example, [and] they get nervous that it’s somehow going to take business away from them.
What we find in the places we’ve done this is that the flow of patients is to the dental office. They're seeing patients in their offices whom they would not have seen otherwise. So it’s actually an increase in their busyness and business. With 60 percent of the population not getting dental care in our country, there’s plenty of work for everyone to do.
What does a healthier community look like to you?
The more people that have access to some kind of service — and by “access” I don’t mean getting people into a dental office, I mean having services that are convenient, affordable and accessible — the better off we are.
Read more about how teledentistry can expand the reach of today’s oral health care system, improve outcomes, and lower costs at https://www.dentaquestpartnership.org/teledentistrywhitepaper.
You can also learn more about the challenges and successes of several teledentistry models in California, Colorado and Oregon by viewing this recorded webinar Teledentistry: Closing Gaps in Oral Health.