Teledentistry is defined as the use of electronic information, imaging, and communication technologies (ex: interactive video, audio, data communications) to offer and support dental care services, diagnosis, treatment, and more, according to the American Teledentistry Association, whose mission is to increase access to dental care through teledentistry.
However, it is still a new practice among dentists and teledentistry falls under the broader concept of telehealth, noted Fred Pinnic of HIT Consultant, source of healthcare technology news. A teledental appointment can take place anywhere and it could be in the form of a video call between a patient and a dentist to discuss the former’s needs. This helps patients avoid unnecessary hospital visits and it also saves seats at dental clinics.
Studies Detail Knowledge and Attitudes About Dentistry
Devina Pradhan and colleagues of life sciences and biomedical journal portal PMC conducted a cross-sectional descriptive survey on a total of 120 post-graduate dental students in Kanpur city, India, but only 77 responded. The authors found that 74.4% of students had knowledge about teledentistry and 79.2% thought of practicing teledentistry in the future. The overall awareness and attitudes about teledentistry was at 71.7%.
Most students (96.2%) were aware that teledentistry is the practice of the use of computers, internet, and technologies to diagnose and provide advice about treatment over a distance. 77.9% said that teledentistry is good for dental education over the internet and for training primary healthcare dentists. The same percentage (77.9%) was also found among students who believed that teledentistry is a good tool for oral hygiene training. 58.4% believed that it helps to consult with an expert about a patient’s specific problem.
72.1% believed that dental examinations are accurate via computers and intraoral cameras as in the traditional offices. 72.7% thought that teledentistry can increase the accessibility of dental professionals to rural and underserved communities for their oral needs. A smaller proportion of students (61%) said that it is a convenient form of oral healthcare delivery that makes dental examination easier. More than half (59.7%) said it can minimize costs for dental practices.
While the students demonstrated satisfactory knowledge, awareness, and attitudes about teledentistry, there is a still need to improve their knowledge and promote teledentistry. This can be done by continuing to conduct dental education programs and awareness campaigns/programs, which will aid in professional development. If teledentistry is properly tackled, it could lead to better healthcare delivery to rural areas.
Among 226 dental professionals in the College of Dentistry at the King Khalid University in Abha, Saudi Arabia, 66% of males and 28% of females agreed that teledentistry can be a good tool for oral hygiene training, according to Sami Mohammad Alawwad and colleagues of Annals of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, an article portal that focuses on tropical medicine. On the other hand, 23% of males and 42% of females said no (versus 11% and 30% of respondents who said they don’t know).
Overall, 35% of respondents believed that teledentistry is very useful. 24% said their opinion about it is “limited in general dentistry” and another 29% said it is limited in dentistry. Only 12% said that it has too many legal issues. More than half of respondents (57%) believed that teledentistry is time saving while 23% said it is not time saving. A smaller number of participants (20%) said they don’t know. Like the previous study, 54% agreed that teledentistry can be a good tool for oral hygiene training (versus 29% who said no and 17% who said they don’t know).
Despite the respondents showing a positive attitude and knowledge of dentistry, the findings also suggested a lack of training programs, as well as the willingness to adopting new strategies to offer basic oral services. Structured education programs and courses are needed to improve their knowledge and attitude, especially dentists with fewer qualifications and work experiences. This can be achieved by widening the scope of education about teledentistry at the central government level and preparing legislation.
What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Teledentistry?
When emergencies arise, a patient can connect with a dentist remotely right away, allowing the professional to assess the problem, suggest medicine, avoid a trip to the office, and save your time and money. Patients can also choose a dentist without taking into account the location of the dentist. For dentists, there will be reduced wait times as patients do not need to come into the clinic often.
With technology, in-office appointments will be reserved for patients who really need to see a dental professional in person. Additionally, patients and dentists alike can seek second opinions via teledentistry. In the public health sector, it can help dentists connect with multiple communities and assess photos taken my nurses to identify any problems more efficiently. One of the drawbacks of the rapid adoption of teledentistry is the lack of direct contact with patients and weak IT literacy in many areas. In rural areas, internet access is lacking and may be too complex for most people.
Are There Any Existing Policies About Teledentistry?
The American Dental Association (ADA), the country’s leading advocate for oral health, released a policy about this practice. It said that patients who receive services via teledentistry must be properly documented and should be provided with a summary of services. Dentists who offer their services via this method must establish protocols for appropriate referrals if needed.
Patients have the right to expect that the delivery of teledental services will follow evidence-based practice guidelines to ensure safety, quality of care, and positive health outcomes—at least to the degree they are available. They also have the right to be informed about the identity of the professionals collecting or evaluating their information or providing treatment, including costs they will have to shoulder.
Further, patients have the right to be actively involved in treatment-related decisions and to choose how they receive a covered service. Patients can also consider the urgency, convenience, and satisfaction of receiving said service without penalties as higher deductibles, co-payments, or co-insurance relative to in-person appointments.
Meanwhile, dentists are expected to be responsible for the safety and quality of services provided to patients using teledentistry. Dentists also have to retain the authority regarding these matters. Teledental services should be consistent with in-person services and such services must abide by laws regarding privacy and security of their patient’s dental/medical information.
Dentists and allied dental personnel offering their services through teledentistry must be licensed or credentialed in accordance with the law of the state the patient receives service. Teledental services must adhere to the state’s scope of practice law, rules, or regulations.
Patients have the right to expect quality service from dentists, as with dentists’ responsibility in ensuring the safety of their clients. Teledentistry may be innovative, but the lack of a strong internet connection in rural areas may impair the full adoption of this practice.