Is Teledentistry Really a Thing?

Written by Heather Siler

Teledentistry is dental consultation, education, and treatment without the presence of a dentist using the aid of telecommunication and information technology. With dentistry being a hands-on process, how does teledentistry work without the patient physically being in a doctor’s presence?

Teledentistry began in the nineties by the U.S. Military to assist the troops stationed far from dental care. Digital images were captured during deployment in remote areas and transmitted to a dental specialist. These images were examined by a dentist and suggestions were given for the alleviation of pain. The patient would then be seen by a medic or surrounding dentist using the best available approach with limited supplies.

In the civilian world, teledentistry is becoming more popular because of some states in the U.S. passing legislation making it legal for specially trained hygienists and assistants to be supervised by a virtual dentist. Practicing in this manner is primarily being implemented to assist low-income families by creating access to affordable dental care while stressing preventative education. Teledentistry is also utilized throughout the world and even in third world countries where dental education and provision doesn’t usually exist.

With the passage of legislation, specially trained hygienists and assistants may provide basic therapy without a dentist’s direct or indirect supervision. Temporary clinics such as nursing homes, schools, or community centers are the setting for offering services such as prophylaxis, placement of temporary fillings, fluoride application, and other aid depending on the laws of the state. The provider of the assistance corresponds with the supervising dentist primarily by the internet. The interaction between the hygienist or assistant and virtual dentist consists of treatment planning and guidance throughout the appointment. Patients are referred to a participating dentist for more complex needs. While this type of delivery may be controversial, it can be very beneficial to those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to dental care as long as the provider operates within the laws of the state.