Teledentistry is emerging as a practical solution for patients living in rural areas, according to the University of Albany. Its researchers report that teledentistry can provide critical services where gaps currently exist, especially for treatment planning and specialty consultations, as a means to improve access to oral health services in areas with inadequate availability of general and specialty dental care.
Concerns about limited access to oral health services for underserved populations are prompting providers to adopt new service delivery strategies to meet the needs of those with access barriers. This is especially true in rural areas, where there are limited oral health providers, higher percentages of elderly people, high rates of poverty, and low rates of dental insurance.
“Efforts to expand access to dental services, particularly in underserved communities, is increasing interest in the use of teledentistry,” said Margaret Langelier, deputy director of the university’s Oral Health Workforce Research Center at the Center for Health Workforce Studies and leader of the study. “It is important to understand the teledentistry applications that providers are using, their impacts, and the barriers and facilitators of their use.”
Teledentistry uses information technology and telecommunications such as video conferencing for dental care, consultation, and education. Case study participants identified the benefits of teledentistry, including how it allows them to conduct oral health assessments, determine treatment needs, educate patients about treatment options, and offer appropriate referrals. Other important findings include the following:
- Patients experience shorter wait times to obtain consultations and services, and providers find teledentistry to be efficient, timely, and cost effective.
- Teledentistry enables efficient use of scarce dental resources in underserved communities and allows providers to triage patients to the most appropriate level of care.
- Maintaining teledentistry services requires the ongoing participation of a broad range of clinicians and support staff in sponsoring organizations.
- Regulatory and reimbursement barriers to teledentistry include scope of practice requirement for dental hygienists, inadequate funding for the required technology equipment and installation, and inadequate reimbursement for services provided.
The study, “Case Studies of 6 Teledentistry Programs: Strategies to Increase Access to General and Specialty Dental Services,” was published by the Center for Health Workforce Studies.