As many Californians know from getting braces or filling cavities, dental care can be a huge investment. Cost concerns are at top of mind when considering visiting the dentist; one study found that it was the main barrier to dental care even for adults with private insurance. This comes as no surprise as healthcare costs across the country continue to rise, and dentists like myself are finding that it's difficult for patients to afford care.
The healthcare industry should welcome innovation and growth in areas like teledentistry — especially now amid the Covid-19 crisis. Medical professionals are relying heavily on telehealth initiatives as hospitals and medical facilities are reserved strictly for infected individuals and dental practices are being instructed to close — even for emergency dental needs. The Wall Street Journal noted, "Almost 80 percent of hospitals in the U.S. have some sort of telehealth service. The new emphasis is designed to free up doctors and other front-line providers by encouraging patients with unrelated ailments such as diabetes to get care online."
Dentists are discovering that telehealth practices such as teledentistry not only have made a difference for our patients, but also in our personal lives. I have a particularly personal appreciation for telehealth because when you have an immunocompromised child at home during Covid-19, as I do, it is essential to have safe and effective ways of communicating regularly with medical professionals. Incorporating telehealth in our lives over the last few months has made all the difference in getting my son the care he needs without exposing us unnecessarily to threats of the virus.
As a provider myself, I find telehealth practices have made a difference for my patients. I've been able to expand my dental practice to reach new patients and overcome new challenges in the field. And amid the current Covid-19 crisis, teledentistry services are evermore crucial to keep people safe and healthy while staying at home.
Teledentistry allows patients to have access to quality dental care without having to come into the office. They receive the same involvement of a normal patient interaction, just through a remote-environment.
Dentists that practice teledentistry through companies such as SmileDirectClub follow the same standard of care as traditional clear aligner therapy and the outcome of straighter teeth is the same. For example, when I treat a patient through the SmileDirectClub platform, I perform the same clinical process that I do when treating patients with clear aligners in my brick and mortar office when prescribing clear aligners. Upon receiving and reviewing the patient's dental records, including my assessment of the 3D scan or mold, I prescribe the appropriate treatment. I do not order an additional x-ray be taken in each and every instance but instead rely on my judgment as to whether one is needed based on the existing X-rays or other bone imaging suitable for orthodontia in the patient's file. For follow-up care, I'm able to use store and forward, two-way video, or chat applications to see how the aligners are fitting or assess the patient's oral health.
This is why it is critical that policymakers reject any legislation that creates unnecessary and costly barriers to teledentistry services. For example, proposed legislation in California would require an extra in-person visit to a dentist before an individual could straighten their teeth using a telehealth platform. There is no reason to add costs to dentistry services and to make it more difficult to straighten teeth.
This is an important opportunity for our industry to offer a helping hand in making sure the non-urgent patients are being taken care of outside of the healthcare systems. At times like these, telehealth can truly make a difference in people's lives. We should be embracing innovation and looking to the future of telehealth initiatives to determine how it can positively impact the future of healthcare.
As Governor Newsom pointed out in a recent statement, "To get Californians the care they need during this crisis, we need to change how that care is delivered and communicated." Our lawmakers should enable innovation and encourage new ways to practice professional healthcare.
Whether I'm videoconferencing or emailing with a patient about a problematic tooth or a SmileDirectClub patient about their new set of clear aligners, the outcome of the interaction is still that they are being treated by a professional dentist, just in a different environment than traditional dentistry.
We urge our lawmakers to embrace this innovation and reject any bill that creates barriers to expanding access, or further segments the population that can afford this care.
Dr. Gary Moore DDS is a licensed California dentist. He graduated from the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, where he also taught courses for several years. He has over 30 years of experience in his field.