Is Covid-19 the time to start looking after our oral hygiene? For some it may be, for some absolutely not. You may feel like you finally have the time and energy to think about how to cover up that tiny spot on your front teeth, or about that early-stage cavity that didn’t need immediate care but could eventually require a filling. Others, on the other hand, do not even want to think about the extra costs that would come with a dental care appointment at this time – and will tell themselves to ‘just wait it out for now’.
One thing that’s certain, is that Covid-19 has provided us with more space, introspection and time for finding creative ways to innovate. It’s essential for a society operating remotely. As for many dentists who are currently sitting at home and missing their daily practice; there are several ways to show leadership, help “flatten the curve” and appropriately respond to Covid-19. The answer? View the present circumstances as an opportunity, and get into e-health and teledentistry.
In a nutshell, teledentistry is the practice of combining dental care with IT and telecommunications – think online patient portals, intraoral cameras or specialized apps that take photos of molar pains, or cloud-based medical data sharing. Basically treatment, consultation and supervision through information technology. Patient and dental specialist can connect via livestream and discuss oral health, pains or future plans, for which the dentist can send a treatment plan or recommendation. This leaves the in-person visits for real emergencies or immediate in-person care.
Teledentistry is an effective and promising way to triage patients and limit office visits to a minimum. Some of these examples are already taking place on small and big scale, but it is expected that in today’s digital revolution – and even more so during Covid-19 – even bigger steps will be taken.
The American Dental Association is currently actively informing its public on guiding principles and a smooth transition to Covid-19 dental practice, e.g. in disseminating codes and how to arrange billing for virtual appointments. The same goes for the Australian Dental Association, which outlined that especially vulnerable patients are suited for teleconsultations (e.g. elderly, pregnant or immune-compromised) and those that are unable to attend clinics due to illness, isolation or quarantaine. But guidelines are only outlined recommendations; a hands-on approach is required from dentists to reshape their current business models.
Apart from the pandemic aspect, teledentistry in general has significant advantages. It reaches underserved populations in rural areas, removes socioeconomic disparities and seriously reduces costs – the latter is something many consider a big hurdle for visiting their dentist.