Dentistry is the most underutilized profession in medicine. Imagine if the medical world finally proclaimed that the health of the mouth is a critically important factor in an individual’s overall health.
Then we could finally make a concerted effort to integrate technology and maximize cross-disciplinary collaboration that will ultimately lead to implementing proactive monitoring protocols and early intervention for a host of systemic diseases via targeted, more personalized therapies.
Wouldn’t this be better than what most Americans face today—expensive and reactionary care, or no care at all?
There’s no need to blame the government, the “system,” insurance companies, or patients. The fact is that we’ve allowed our health decisions to be dictated by the next quick fix, paging Dr. Google, popping a purple pill, or, worse, ignoring the body’s warning signs until you’re so desperate that you don’t know who to turn to or where to go.
We have to take responsibility for our own health and choose who will help us improve and maintain our health and be part of the solution, not part of the problem. This may be a hard pill for healthcare providers to swallow, but we must opt our patients into health instead of opting them out based on their insurance plans.
We Must Deliver Preventative Oral Care
“Despite all the advances in our ability to prevent, detect, and treat dental diseases, too many Americans for a variety of reasons are not enjoying the best possible oral health,”ADA president Dr. Maxine Feinberg said in 2015. “We see from the ADA Health Policy Institute report that dental care utilization is at its lowest.”
My career has been laser-focused on prevention methodologies and getting to the “why” before the “do.” My goal has always been to peel away the obstacles for active therapy by recognizing the red flags prior to initiating therapy.
But what if you’re a hygienist who can’t initiate therapy without proper risk assessment systems and the collaborative diagnosis of a dentist or specialist? What if you’re the only one your patients have access to, and getting to a specialist is impossible for them? I faced this dilemma at a recent oral health screening event in California.
My nonprofit, the National Cancer Network, was invited to participate in a community health screening organized by Care Harbor. This organization has a longstanding reputation of providing health services free of charge to a growing number of residents in Los Angeles and surrounding communities.
These at-risk residents consist of individuals and families who are desperately underinsured and underserved due to circumstances beyond their control and who have no medical or dental home.
While setting up our area for oral abnormality screenings, I witnessed other specialties including dermatology, cardiology, optometry, and nutrition set up their stations. I was overwhelmed by the presence of computers, screening technologies, mobile carts with laptops, larger screens, and printers.
Quite honestly, I was jealous of my allied healthcare colleagues’ ability to record data, highlight indices, and offer patients an outstanding educational opportunity by showing them their concerns during their time together. The information was immediate, with no risk of failed return visits, and very, very efficient.
Then I looked at my lack of opportunity and knew I had to elevate our presence and the opportunity to detect oral abnormalities and bring our visit full-circle with prevention, screening, education, and referral, which are the four tenets of the National Cancer Network.
I recognized that the other medical disciplines were all light years ahead of me at taking advantage of technology that makes the patient experience more portable and comprehensive. For more than 15 years, telemedicine has been in hospitals, in remote areas of the world, and in our hometowns where there is minimal organized healthcare.
Telemedicine brings together data, information, and images by transmitting information from one location to another with the potential to reach a multitude of specialties based on the patient’s needs. And I desperately wanted to use it!
Teledentistry Is As Advanced As Telemedicine
I’m happy to say that I am no longer jealous of my medical colleagues, because I have discovered and witnessed the power of teledentistry. In fact, when used in conjunction during the patient’s exam, teledentistry has equal or better opportunities to affect a huge shift in the significant problem we have with access to oral care.
Children, adolescents, and the elderly are dying of preventable dental diseases. Also, pregnant women, mentally and physically challenged individuals, those in rural areas, and those of limited financial means continue to fall victim to this failure in healthcare.
Teledentistry can be highly effective in these cases and also assist with reducing late stage diagnosis of oral abnormalities and skin diseases that we as dental professionals witness on a daily basis.
To prove the impact of teledentistry, Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County, California, has delivered dental care to more than 100,000 children a year using this cutting-edge technology and has so far elevated access to care in hospitals and sent mobile units to more than 133 schools.
“The potential for teledentistry is huge,” said Elo ELiave, DMD, PhD, director of the Eastman Institute for Oral Health.
I couldn’t agree more, so I am spearheading the use of teledentistry to be part of the National Cancer Network setup for Care Harbor this coming September.
After an amazing recent meeting with Brant Herman, founder and CEO of MouthWatch, I realized our goals were well within reach. After several collaborative phone calls with Brant, Care Harbor founder Don Manelli, and his medical board, the opportunity for teledentistry to be integrated into our oral abnormality screening division was set.
The process was simple. Our training on the MouthWatch TeleDent platform was comprehensive and can be easily sequenced into the Care Harbor screening process. We now have a system that will document and integrate with most of the software utilized in healthcare.
We can now show patients what concerns we have so they know that they also have to be part of the solution and follow through with our recommendations. But what I am super excited about is how this will eliminate the likelihood of a suspicious area from becoming under-diagnosed due to the lack of access to the busy physicians at the event.
The ease of use and the convenience of getting intraoral photos of suspicious abnormalities to the volunteer physicians who have a laptop authorized to access TeleDent’s secure, cloud-based software in the facility during the event will provide the added benefit of eliminating our need to run all over the place to consult with our volunteer physicians. It allows us to utilize our time better and screen more patients. Imagine what it can do in your office.
Because of this amazing technology, we also have access to an organized a group of offsite volunteer doctors of all specialties, including oral pathologists who have volunteered to read, review, and offer the followup protocol for the patient. This brings the referral process full circle.
Thanks to emerging technology and the opportunity to use the MouthWatch TeleDent system in these environments, I know we will increase the care of our community by allowing the public to receive preventive and proactive therapeutic services.
I will write a followup case study about using TeleDent at Care Harbor before the end of the year. I hope you look at teledentistry as an opportunity for early intervention in preventable oral diseases as well as an opportunity to market your services to the community you serve.
Ms. Zafiropoulos, RDH, is the founder of the OralED Institute, a multifaceted consulting and development firm that has been retained by several Fortune 50 and 500 companies in the health and dental industry respectively. In 2015, Debbie founded the National Cancer Network, a 501(C)(3) a nonprofit with a vision of a cancer-free world. With more than 28 years in the healthcare industry, Debbie was nominated and selected by her peers as the 2016 recipient of the SUNSTAR/RDH Award of Distinction. In 2017, Debbie was selected as one of the Top 25 Women in Dentistry for her tireless efforts in patient care, cancer awareness, and her professional education programs. Contact Debbie (561) 358-7660 or DebbieZ@VigilantHygienist.com. To donate and further the efforts of the non-profit, visit nationalcancernetwork.org/donate.