Remote exams via the internet have allowed people around the globe to get the medical attention they would not have otherwise sought for fear of coronavirus exposure. The same factors are driving interest in its dental health equivalent – teledentistry – and certain dental insurers, such as Guardian, are starting to cover virtual dentistry consultations. But while millions have already used telehealth services to visit online healthcare providers, online dentist visits are less common – for now. This article will help you decide if it’s right for your needs, with answers to the following:
- What are the best uses for teledentistry?
- How does a virtual dentist visit work?
- How can I find a teledentist?
- Frequently asked questions about teledentistry
Remote dentistry works very well for diagnosing an emergency, prescribing necessary antibiotics when appropriate, and helping to find the best care option for other dental issues. It may not always be your first choice for treatment, but if you are sheltering in place or wary of making an office visit – or in normal circumstances, traveling – a virtual dentist appointment may be your best option. It may be better than going to a hospital emergency room because most are not equipped to handle dental emergencies at this time. An online dental visit is also much less costly than what you’d likely pay for an emergency room visit.
How you can tell if something is considered “emergency dental care”
According to the American Dental Association dental emergencies, “are potentially life threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding [or to] alleviate severe pain or infection.” It’s mostly a matter of common sense: If your tooth, mouth, or jaw is extremely painful or bleeding excessively, you may need emergency dental care.
It’s important to remember that most issues will not be resolved with an online dental visit: If you need an x-ray to see exactly what’s causing a problem – or a tooth extraction, root canal or other procedure to fix the problem – you’ll have to go for an in-office visit. But your teledentist can assist in arranging that visit, and help you manage your symptoms until you get to the dentist’s chair. For other types of oral care, it’s recommended that you reschedule with your dentist:
- Regular visits for exams, cleanings, and x-rays
- Regular visits for braces
- Removal of teeth that aren’t painful
- Treatment of cavities that aren’t painful
- Tooth whitening
Other uses and benefits of using teledentistry
When stay-at-home is no longer an issue, you may still find virtual dentist visits to be useful. If you have a question about an oral issue, it could help reduce time away from work and give quicker answers than you could get by scheduling a regular appointment. Teledentistry could also help your dentist monitor a completed procedure or give you easy access to a second opinion about planned dental work or cosmetic dentistry. This technology also has the potential to be an essential public health tool for oral cancer screening and in-school health programs.
Teledentistry can include patient care and education delivered in one or more of the following ways:
- Live video – The most common form, this refers to real-time, two-way interaction between yourself and a care provider using online videoconferencing technology. The live session is often preceded by a form or questionnaire that will ask you about your symptoms and medical history.
- Store-and-forward – Transmission of x-rays, dental records, or other information to a care provider who evaluates the information and sends back a diagnosis or evaluation – but not in real-time.
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM) – Innovations are emerging to help dentists monitor their patients’ oral health remotely, such as measuring the pH of a patient’s saliva.
- Mobile health (mHealth) - Mobile health broadly refers to support for the kinds of interactions described above via mobile smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, and even voice assistants such as Siri or Alexa.
As a Guardian plan member, teledentist visits are covered during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have an in-network dental care provider, start by contacting your dentist’s office to see if they offer online office visits or other remote services through your Guardian plan.
If you can’t reach your dentist or they don’t offer that service, there are a number of teledentistry services, such as Virtudent, that can be found with a simple online search. Some will even bill your insurance company directly, so check to see if they work with Guardian.
Teledentistry is primarily a tool for consultation and enhancing care – and it can be a tremendous asset in a dental emergency – but in most cases, it won’t take the place of an in-office visit for treatment. As with any other health care issue, if you have an emergency need, don’t put off treatment more than you have to.
What is remote teledentistry?
It's a virtual dental visit allowing you and your dentist to meet safely in real-time from almost any location.
Does Guardian cover teledentistry?
During the coronavirus crisis, Guardian is covering remote dentistry services offered by many in-network providers. Check with your dentist’s office to see if they offer telehealth services, if your plan covers those services, and whether or not a virtual office visit is appropriate for your current needs.
Can you see a dentist online?
Yes, a teledentist visit usually involves some form of live videoconferencing with a dentist. However, some forms of teledentistry may not require a video conference, for example, in the case of remote patient monitoring.