Teledentistry, also known as virtual dental care, refers to using technology to provide dental care at a distance. Virtual dental care became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person dental services were limited or restricted. Thanks to the many benefits it offers for patients, virtual dental care is here to stay.
What is Teledentistry?
Teledentistry allows you to receive dental services remotely instead of seeing a dentist in person. While a dentist can’t fill a cavity or pull a tooth from a distance, you can receive a surprising variety of dental services in the comfort of your own home. This includes advice about oral health issues, help with dental emergencies, and even some at-home treatments.
There are two main ways dentists can provide teledentistry services:
- Synchronous teledentistry. This refers to live, two-way interaction with your dentist. It may take the form of a real-time video call. Dentists may also communicate with their patients through mobile devices, such as cell phones or tablet computers.
- Asynchronous teledentistry. Also called store-and-forward teledentistry, this method doesn’t rely on real-time interactions. Instead, recorded information is passed back and forth. For example, your dentist may ask you to submit photographs or videos for their review.
Your dentist may provide virtual care through a secure patient portal, such as the Teledent dental services platform. Patient portals may be accessed through your computer’s web browser, or in some cases, through a mobile app.
Why Should You Have a Virtual Consultation with a Dentist?
There are many reasons why you might want to have a virtual consultation with a dentist. If you find yourself in one of the following situations, consider seeking a virtual dental consultation:
- You have a dental problem. A virtual dentist may provide an initial assessment to identify a toothache, swollen gums, or a sore inside your mouth. Some dental problems, such as cavities and oral cancer, can be diagnosed through teledentistry, while others may require an in-person assessment.
- You’re researching dental options. You can use virtual consultations to gather information about dental treatments. For example, you may wonder if you’re a good candidate for veneers, teeth whitening, or other cosmetic treatments. If you have a cavity, you may want to learn more about choosing the right type of filling.
- You want a second opinion. If your dentist has diagnosed you with a potentially serious oral health issue or has recommended an expensive treatment plan, you may want a second opinion before you proceed. Teledentistry may make this process easier and more convenient. A virtual dentist can evaluate your diagnosis or treatment plan and may offer confirmation or alternatives.
- You’re looking for a new dentist. Virtual consultations can make it easier to find a new dentist in your area. You can chat with potential dentists remotely when it’s convenient for you. This helps you get a feel for local dentists without taking the time to visit their offices. After finding the right dentist for your needs, you can proceed with an in-person appointment if necessary.
- You have dental anxiety. About one-fifth of people have moderate to high dental anxiety. If you’re one of them, you may avoid dental appointments and not get the care you need. A virtual consultation allows you to start the process in a comfortable, familiar environment. After talking to your dentist about your concerns and possible treatment options, you may feel more at ease when you see your dentist in person.
Benefits of Teledentistry
Patients who choose to take advantage of virtual dental care options may enjoy reduced wait times, shorter dental visits, and many more teledentistry benefits.
Affordable Dental Care
Teledentistry can help patients save money on dental care. Seeing a dentist remotely eliminates some costs associated with regular dental visits, such as transportation. It also reduces or eliminates the cost of taking time off work for an appointment. In the case of dental emergencies, seeing a virtual dentist may help you avoid an unnecessary — and potentially costly — trip to a hospital emergency room. In addition, many health insurance plans have added coverage for teledentistry, making virtual care an affordable option.
Reduced Wait Times
Many dentists can accommodate same-day or next-day appointments, especially in the case of emergencies. However, teledentistry may let you see a dentist even faster. Some virtual dental care services have dentists on-call around the clock. When patients request an appointment, they may wait just a few minutes for real-time consultation. This convenience makes it easier to fit a dental appointment into your busy schedule.
Increased Access to Dental Care
Teledentistry can help bring quality dental care to underserved populations. For example, people who live in rural areas may have limited access to dental care. Teledentistry connects them to qualified dentists, including dental specialists who may not be available locally. Elderly patients with mobility challenges or other health barriers may also appreciate the ease of virtual dental visits.
Streamlined Dental Visits
Teledentistry can be used to streamline dental appointments. Some steps typically performed in-office, such as taking a medical history or providing dental health education, can be completed virtually. With these steps out of the way, patients can experience shorter, more convenient dental appointments. This makes it easier for those with busy schedules to get the dental care they need.
Increased Availability of In-Office Appointments
The increased use of teledentistry can help make in-person appointments more accessible to patients who need them. Virtual dental care can divert some patients from the office, freeing up space for patients who can’t be treated remotely. Plus, with streamlined dental visits, in-person appointments can be shortened, leaving time to see more patients.
Teledentistry doesn’t just connect patients to dentists; it connects dentists to each other. This may help them provide better care. For example, general dentists and specialists can share images, videos, and notes and work together to determine treatment plans. Dentists can use teledentistry to collaborate with patients’ physicians, too. This may be useful for patients with health conditions that may impact their dental care, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or end-stage renal disease.
Some dental services, such as cleaning your teeth or repairing tooth decay, can only be provided during in-person appointments. However, it’s possible to receive a wide range of dental services virtually.
Emergency Dental Services
Virtual dentists may offer after-hours or 24/7 consultations for people with dental emergencies, such as severe toothaches. The dentist can assess the severity of your oral health problem and offer advice or treatment. They may prescribe medications such as antibiotics or painkillers when appropriate. Depending on the situation, they may recommend an in-person dental visit or a trip to a hospital emergency room.
When you need reliable information and advice about oral health issues, you can take advantage of teledentistry options. A virtual dentist can answer your questions at a time and place that’s convenient for you. They may provide general information about tooth sensitivity, gum recession, discolored teeth, or other concerns and discuss possible treatment options. A virtual dentist can also answer questions about oral hygiene routines and products.
Virtual dentists may offer at-home treatments when appropriate. An example is the application of fluoride varnish, a treatment that helps prevent tooth decay. A fluoride varnish application kit is shipped to the patient, who then paints it onto their teeth. Performing a treatment at home may seem intimidating, but your dentist will guide you through the process during a real-time video call. This type of treatment can be useful for patients in rural areas with limited access to dental care.
Some follow-up appointments can be conducted through telemonitoring. For example, if you recently had dental surgery, your dentist may recommend a virtual check-in to make sure you’re healing well. Virtual follow-ups can also be a convenient option for patients receiving a treatment that requires regular monitoring, such as orthodontic treatment.
When you have a dental problem, you may not know where to go for treatment. Through teledentistry, you can receive referrals to the dental services you need. In some cases, the virtual dentist may refer you to an in-person practice for tests, such as x-rays. Or, they may refer you to an appropriate dental specialist for evaluation and treatment.
If your dentist refers you to a specialist, you may not need to travel to their office for an initial consultation. Teledentistry may be used for consultations with various dental specialists, such as orthodontists, endodontists, and periodontists. Through these virtual meetings, you can learn about treatment options before proceeding with an in-person appointment.
Your dentist may offer other services through teledentistry. Talk to your dentist to learn more about the services they provide virtually.
Find a Virtual Dentist Near You
If you have a routine or emergency dental problem, a virtual dentist may be able to help. You can find a virtual dentist in your area with the Smile Generation. Browse nearby dental offices, read reviews from other patients, and set up your first teledentistry appointment online.