Automatized photo scans, online anamnesis and streamlined data collection are examples of huge digitization developments in today’s e-health systems. The concept of teledentistry goes further than that: it brings together telecommunications and information technology with the dental practice. While there are already advanced examples of general telemedicine, such as home DNA tests with swap kits, home eye or ear exams with phone attachments and skin dermatology apps, this is still relatively unknown territory for dental professionals. But teledentistry is a novel, much-promising pathway to dental care being delivered at home and on demand.
During Covid-19, a lot of dental associations and health organizations are providing insights as to what are available technologies and options for dentists who want to (temporarily) practice virtually during the pandemic. As a result, there are tons of webinars and online courses taking place in order to share experiences, as it is essential to not only cover the practical arrangements but also other business considerations such as privacy and patient verification.
Digitized healthcare and the use of telecommunication services have immense advantages for people from rural areas and those unable or unwilling to travel. On the long run, it could also significantly reduce costs, which is important because research shows many people still find dentists expensive and inaccessible, unlike for example their GP.
Covid-19 could actually truly speed up the revolution of e-health and digitized dental care: it is likely that many innovative dental practitioners who are currently making the most of their virtual practice, will not fully return to ‘pre-corona’ times. They have made significant investments and tested out new methods, showing them the benefits of e-health. That leaves us wondering: will telehealth completely transform the ‘old’ way of dentistry? And how do medical specialists ensure a safe and clinically appropriate service, in a world where telecommunication services are privately owned and often scrutinized for their lack of privacy protection?
From a more romantic perspective: the beautiful – if not the most – part of dentistry, is that it’s a form of art: it requires mastery and unique skills, and a good dentist chooses his treatments on not only general oral care but also on tailored specifics of each patient: the financial possibilities, (medical) history, age… Dentists looks at a whole set of teeth, an entire human body and its emotions. It is not just about filling cavities and planning a check-up for next year. They look at deeper relations as to why cavities occur; from a prevention perspective, not a curative. There is a large, not always visible, psychological aspect to every dentist visit, and it would be difficult, at least short-term, to ‘telecomize’ that part of the job – and certainly to carry it out remotely.
That being said however, it is definitely an appropriate time for dental professionals to lift their game and experiment how IT and telecom can improve the delivery of oral healthcare – even more so in today’s pandemic society.