When talking about Virtudent, one term I’ve noticed coming up a lot in patient conversation is teledentistry. That is because we are a teledentistry company, but since not everyone is familiar with that term lets break it down!
Teledentistry is the use of information technology and telecommunications for dental care, consultation, education, and public awareness. You probably haven’t realized this but we are actually using teledentistry when we fax or email other healthcare providers! It is a good term to get familiar with because teledentistry is quickly increasing in popularity in the United States.
Teledentistry can be performed in a variety of different ways. It might include live video connections, phone calls, or text messaging between a patient or dental hygienist and a dentist. It can also be storing patient records and notes and forwarding them to a dentist, monitoring patients remotely, or bringing the dental office to the patient in a vehicle such as a van or a trailer. Or, as with Virtudent’s model, teledentistry can include using portable dental equipment that can be easily transported and set up anywhere.
Why is teledentistry important?
Oral health is included in overall health and boy are we feeling these effects in dentistry! Presently most of the U.S. population is not even getting any dental care. A lot of people are facing significant barriers to getting dental care in typical dental offices and clinics. Some common obstacles include cost, transportation, a lack of time, the geographic distribution of dental offices and clinics, as well as linguistic and cultural barriers.
Luckily, we are not the only ones who see this as a problem! The U.S Surgeon General and the Institute of Medicine have both realized this is a big problem and are trying to come up with solutions. One of the top suggestions was to incorporate mid-level providers (like hygienists and nurse practitioners) and teledentistry to make dental care more accessible.
A little history lesson about teledentistry
The first major use of teledentistry was in 1994 by the Department of Defense. They started a teledentistry program called total dental access. It arose from a project that aimed to improve patient care, increase dental education, and promote communication between dentists and labs. The project was a huge success and it was able to reduce total patient care costs and provide dental care to remote areas. Since then there have been many other successful teledentistry endeavors.
What teledentistry can look like today
Through the Alaskan DHAT (Dental Health Aide Therapist) project, mid-level dental providers (similar to dental hygienists) in Alaska use a combination of real-time methods (including phone calls) and the store and forward method to communicate with dentists. They were able to treat Alaskans in remote villages where dentists were very far away and could not easily travel to see the patients. The project has been enormously successful as it has led to long term savings, decreased emergency room visits, and even decreased hospitalizations associated with dental disease!
Text2Floss is another teledentistry project in which push notifications are sent to patients’ phones to remind them to make preventative dental appointments as well as establish good home care. This sounds like something many of our patients could use!
PH2OH, another example of teledentistry, helps patients monitor the PH of their saliva (one of the most influential factors in the development of cavities) and sends that information to their dentists so they can help make recommendations specifically about their individual needs. This information can help change habits and, hopefully, reduce trips to get cavities filled!
Bringing preventive care to you
With Virtudent, our registered dental hygienists travel onsite to see patients at their workplace using our state-of-the-art portable dentistry equipment. We can communicate with the dentist in real-time during the appointment if we have any questions and concerns. We can also use live video to connect the dentist with the patient when needed. During each appointment, we take X-rays, intraoral photos, and careful notes to store and forward to the dentist following the appointment.
One big advantage of using the Store and Forward method is that our dentists can simultaneously supervise multiple hygienists or teams without having to physically travel. This system enables each dentist to care for far more patients than they normally could. The dentists are also able to review charts, images, and create treatment plans at whatever time and place is most convenient for them. I wonder where the most interesting place is they have reviewed a patient chart? (I will report back on that in a future blog).
We all know how the United States is having some problems with healthcare. Our general healthcare system is going through many big changes, mostly due to our current healthcare system spending too much and not getting the results we want. In the United States, our healthcare spending is close to 20% of our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) which is a lot higher than other developed countries. The worst part is that for all of this spending, we can still find it hard to be healthy!
At Virtudent, we believe in making oral healthcare easy and accessible to all, and that’s why we go on-site to workplaces and provide preventive dental cleanings and exams. Looking to add dental cleanings to your benefits offerings? Connect with us to talk through your options.