The first notion of dental care that people usually have is the dentist’s classic visit: a chair surrounded by all sorts of gadgets, syringes, and the dreaded high pitch of a drill. Just like any other activity, it involves displacement from one place to another. Patients must visit the dentist’s office, spend time waiting for their turn in the chair and lie with their mouths open. This can be a time-consuming experience for some and one that, thanks to recent advances in technology and other external factors, can be a thing of the past in some instances.
Nowadays, classes can be taught online, the pandemic has created a surge of employees working from home, and people shop online more than ever. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the dental industry has to rethink its methods, and teledentistry—the use of telecommunications and information technologies to assist, diagnose, consult and educate patients about dental health—is a tool some choose to use. As we step into an ever interconnected world, a fascinating opportunity opens up for practices to entertain the idea of teledentistry and provide increased services that will enable dentists to increase their access to care.
When we think of teledentistry, one might initially wonder: “How can this possibly work if dentistry is such a hands-on profession? Is there really something I can integrate into patient treatment?” And the answer is, YES!. While services like crown placements, and restorations, and many other core procedures still obviously require a visit, there are many services in the realm of consultation, diagnosis, education, and public awareness that can benefit from the current advances in technology.
History and Applications
While calling, writing, or even telegramming a doctor is not new, The U.S. Army conducted one of the first recorded teledentistry experiments in 1984. The Total Dental Access Project began its pilot program in Fort Gordon, Georgia, where 15 patients had dental photos taken. The images were faxed to dental facilities in Fort McPherson, 120 miles away. After the dentist reviewed them, 14 of the patients were spared from the 120-mile drive, as the “teledental” consultation was enough for treatment. They expanded the program in 1995, with patients located in Haiti being reviewed by the Walter Reed Medical Center’s dental staff in Washington D.C.
Today, teledentistry has a broad range of practical applications that go beyond the dentist’s chair. These services mainly encompass the following areas of oral health:
Growth in the Teledentistry Scene
With the wide range of services now available, it comes as no surprise that several innovative dental tech startups have caught investors and venture capitalists’ attention. Technology, such as dental consultation Software-as-a-Service and teeth-straightening startups, are innovating the entire experience of going to the dentist.
The teledentistry industry is in a position to grow significantly due to the recent advances in technology and the current need for remote-based services. Dentists, researchers and patients are all part of this exciting and innovative time. Patients will likely see more services and technologies that benefit them. While some might still be afraid, tools and information that boost their confidence, giving them the courage to sit in the chair with comfort and peace are evolving and changing the face of dentistry.