Teledentistry: Top Providers, Legality & Availability
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Table of Contents
- Is Teledentistry Legal?
- What Is Teledentistry
- How It Works
Telehealth has been evolving for decades, but many medical providers, including dentists, expanded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Teledentistry can improve access to care and treatment for people who have little time, money, or access to a range of dental treatment otherwise.
Providers of teledentistry include Toothpic, United Healthcare Dental, and the network of doctors who work with Byte. Laws about teledentistry vary by state, but services are available in most states.
Is Teledentistry Legal?
Although teledentistry may be a fantastic option moving forward, able to reduce costs and improve treatment access and adherence, it is not a full replacement for dental treatment, including regular cleanings and in-person exams, which include x-rays. However, teledentistry can be a good option for diagnosing potential oral health problems, with associated referrals. It can also be a good choice for supporting some non-invasive types of treatment like orthodontics.
As the pandemic began in March 2020, more dental insurance companies began reimbursing for teledentistry because people were hesitant to go to a dentist in person. Although many dentists have returned to in-person work, for both consumers and dental professionals, dental practice still focuses on necessary treatment. This includes cleanings and treating health issues like cavities.
Still, finding ways to avoid unnecessary personal contact is increasingly common. Prior to 2020, dental insurance companies rarely reimbursed for teledentistry, as it had not been considered as effective as in-person visits.
While teledentistry is an increasingly appealing and important option for most people in the United States, laws around the practice are very new and tend to be different by state. One of the more recent and comprehensive state laws was passed in California in 2019, which added specific requirements:
- The treating dentist’s name, license number, and dental board information must be provided to the patient.
- The patient must provide their most recent x-rays prior to orthodontic treatment, including treatment with clear, plastic aligners.
- The patient must undergo a full dental examination with a complete medical and dental history.
- The teledentist or company must provide recourse information to the patient if their treatment falls below the standard of care.
The American Dental Association (ADA) released original guidelines regarding teledentistry stating that the organization expected telehealth services to be provided at the same quality and consistency as in-person services, based on the level of information available. This does mean, in practical terms, that some diagnostic and treatment potential is limited, but the ability of dentists to recommend courses of treatment, prescribe medications like antibiotics, and even offer support for orthodontic treatment has greatly improved the lives of thousands of people around the country.
Big Names in Teledentistry
If you need a consultation with a dentist, or are interested in a home-based dental product like plastic aligners, you may look at potential options through your dental insurance provider. You may also consider these online teledentistry services, if they are available in your state:
United Healthcare Dental
What Is Teledentistry?
Teledentistry is a branch of telemedicine that uses photographs, interactive audio, video calls or recordings, data communications, and other electronic information to provide support, consultation, some diagnoses, and some treatment over mobile and internet technologies. Essentially, you can use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to communicate with a professional, trained dentist for help regarding dental issues that come up.
There are many potential benefits to teledentistry, including less expensive treatment, greater access to high-quality care for patients in remote areas, and easier management of patient load for medical professionals. Telehealth practices have become especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are great benefits to access to this care that will continue as the pandemic recedes.
It is important to know that teledentistry may be only a first step to getting in-person treatment. A teledentist may be able to diagnose a potential oral health issue, but you may need to get treatment in person.
How Does Teledentistry Work?
In-person dental health visits have declined in the United States since 2003, according to the American Teledentistry Association. There are a wide range of factors that contributed to this problem, but it is vital to get regular dental care and have access to a dentist when you are concerned about your oral health.
Patient safety and privacy are important, so telehealth is still an important area of concern for both health care professionals and patients. Fortunately, with advances in laws, diagnostic tools, internet speed and access, and even camera quality, the ability of medical professionals like dentists to help patients who may be miles away from them is increasing.
By 2013, as many as 52 percent of hospitals in the United States utilized telehealth. Another 10 percent were beginning to implement telehealth services.
At-home treatments (including orthodontics like clear, plastic aligners) use telehealth services specific to teledentistry.
Studies on telehealth show that about 70 percent of people who use these services are comfortable communicating with medical professionals, like dentists, over text, email, or video rather than seeing a professional in person. Potential reasons for this include:
- Less expensive “visits.”
- Faster access to medical opinions.
- Access to higher quality care.
- Treatment or diagnoses without traveling a long distance.
- Comfort with methods of communication, including indirect communication like text.
About 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas without easy access to a wide range of medical and dental professionals. But even for Americans living in major cities, scheduling an appointment can be complicated and finding a good appointment time can be even harder.
Teledentistry can make dental care and support simpler, which can encourage regular treatment for many people who might otherwise avoid important regular check-ups. Research on telehealth options in general suggests that the quality of care, along with patient success rates, were the same for telehealth providers compared to in-person visits.
Facts About Teledentistry. American TeleDentistry Association (ATDA). Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
Bridging the Miles — And the Pandemic — Teledentistry Makes Some Dentists Wince. (October 2020). Kaiser Family Foundation. Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
New State Law Provides Telehealth Patient Protections. (October 2019). American Dental Association, Global News Wire. Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
ADA Policy on Teledentistry. (2020). American Dental Association (ADA). Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
How It Works. ToothPic. Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
UnitedHealthcare Dental Launches Teledentistry Option to Help Plan Participants Avoid Unnecessary ER Visits. (June 2020). United Healthgroup. Date fetched: May 14, 2021.
Why byte. byteme. Date fetched: May 14, 2021.