Teledentistry is the use of telehealth technologies to facilitate and expand access to oral healthcare services. The four telehealth applications (modalities) used for teledentistry include:
- Synchronous (or live video) – Delivering consultation and treatment using live, audiovisual technology, so a dental professional can provide a remote consultation or visit in real time.
- Asynchronous (store and forward) – Transmitting clinical information, such as a patient's dental records, x-ray images, or patient messages, via a secure electronic communications system, or uploading that information to the cloud, so a dental professional can access and review the records at a different point in time.
- Remote patient monitoring – Using digital technology to collect and send a patient's data to a dental provider for supportive care, such as measuring vital signs or treating obstructive sleep apnea.
- Mobile health (or mHealth) – Using mobile communication devices like cell phones, tablet computers, and software apps to manage and track dental health conditions and promote healthy behaviors, including asking questions about oral care and scheduling appointments.
The teledentistry model is a recommended best practice featured in the National Rural Health Association's 2020 Compendium of Rural Oral Health Best Practices.
Examples of Rural Teledentistry Programs
Tooth B.U.D.D.S. (Bringing Understanding of Dental Disease to Schools) provides components of a school-based model, outreach and education model, and telehealth model to provide oral healthcare to students in rural Graham and Greenlee counties in Arizona. Dental hygienists visit schools to offer oral health education, as well as clinical services like screenings, cleanings, sealants, and fluoride treatment. The program then uses teledentistry to refer patients with significant health needs to their dental provider for additional treatment.
The practice of teledentistry is still emerging and presents several implementation challenges. Challenges include variation of laws and regulations between states, limited reimbursement, availability of telehealth services among providers, and logistical issues like limited internet access. As of 2020, 20 states have adopted teledentistry reimbursement policies in their private payer policies or Medicaid programs.
Resources to Learn More
American Teledentistry Association
Collection of resources on the efficacy of teledentistry, including studies, white papers, billing codes, and other practice considerations.
Best Practice Approach:
Teledentistry: Opportunities for Expanding the Capacity and Reach of the Oral Healthcare System
Presents teledentistry as an effective public health strategy to reduce barriers that prevent people from accessing oral healthcare. Offers policy and reimbursement recommendations, and state practice examples.
Organization(s): The Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) Best Practices Committee
Nationwide Survey of
Discusses the importance of teledentistry as an accepted practice to improve oral health access and utilization, and offers a guide to teledentistry laws and regulations by state.
Author(s): Poelman, T.
Organization(s): National Network for Oral Health Access