Busi­ness­es, schools and pub­lic space have been reopen­ing for months now, and that includes den­tal offices. As part of the reopen­ing efforts, more den­tists and their patients have turned to tele­den­tistry, an emerg­ing trend that has the pow­er to reshape the indus­try as we know it. Here are some com­mon ques­tions about tele­den­tistry, as well as our thoughts about the impact tele­den­tistry will have on the indus­try and how Delta Den­tal is address­ing it.

What is teledentistry?

Tele­den­tistry is when a den­tist con­ducts a vir­tu­al con­sul­ta­tion via phone, text or video to diag­nose issues, offer care advice and deter­mine if an in-per­son vis­it is nec­es­sary.

Tele­den­tistry appoint­ments can be syn­chro­nous, such as a video call where the den­tist and patient are inter­act­ing with each oth­er, or asyn­chro­nous, such as when the patient sends a descrip­tion of his or her sit­u­a­tion and a pho­to and waits for a reply.

Are teledentistry appointments covered by insurance?

Yes. Delta Den­tal cov­ers tele­den­tistry ser­vices as prob­lem-focused exams. That means they fall into the cat­e­go­ry of diag­nos­tic care, and are sub­ject to the same rules and lim­i­ta­tions (for exam­ple, D&P is usu­al­ly cov­ered at no cost to the patient, but only a cer­tain num­ber of such appoint­ments are cov­ered each year).

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equip­ment and soft­ware need­ed may vary based on den­tists’ pref­er­ences and capa­bil­i­ties. Tele­den­tistry may require noth­ing more than a phone or may require a smart device, com­put­er or spe­cial­ized app.

If dental offices are reopening, why is teledentistry relevant?

Den­tist offices may open, but that doesn’t mean that patients won’t ben­e­fit from tele­den­tistry solu­tions. Just as work­ing from home has shown the val­ue of video meet­ings and con­nect­ing with cowork­ers with­out being in per­son, patients may find tele­den­tistry a use­ful option when seek­ing den­tal care.

Addi­tion­al­ly, not all patients are will­ing to return to the den­tists. Sur­veys this past August by the Amer­i­can Den­tal Asso­ci­a­tion (ADA) have found that 15% of peo­ple are wait­ing for a med­ical break­through such as a vac­cine before they’ll go back to the den­tist. Whether your clients are eager or hes­i­tant to return the den­tist, tele­den­tistry is the per­fect tool for stay­ing in touch, get­ting care and get­ting advice with­out going into the dentist’s office.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Den­tal cov­ers tele­den­tistry appoint­ments at the same ben­e­fit lev­els as diag­nos­tic ser­vices to ensure that enrollees have cov­er­age for their den­tal needs while stay­ing safe from COVID-19. We’re encour­ag­ing den­tists to use tele­den­tistry for emer­gency diag­noses and non-emer­gency con­sul­ta­tions. Delta Den­tal den­tists are also eli­gi­ble for dis­counts on tele­den­tistry ser­vices. What’s more, Delta Den­tal is look­ing into part­ner­ships with tele­den­tistry com­pa­nies to improve the expe­ri­ence for both den­tists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the industry?

COVID-19 has been dis­rup­tive to the entire econ­o­my, and the den­tal indus­try is no excep­tion. That dis­rup­tion is more than just eco­nom­ic, how­ev­er. Expec­ta­tions about what it means to go to the den­tist are also chang­ing. Den­tal patients may expect tele­den­tistry to be includ­ed as a stan­dard part of any insur­ance plan (for exam­ple, Kaiser Per­ma­nente is launch­ing plans with a heavy focus on tele­health) and they may shy away from plans and den­tists that can’t accom­mo­date it. Patients who live in remote areas may also find expand­ed access to pro­fes­sion­al care because of tele­den­tistry.

For den­tists, tele­den­tistry is more than just anoth­er option or add-on when it comes to pro­vid­ing care and in-per­son treat­ments. It may become a new source of income in the form of see­ing more patients vir­tu­al­ly.

For bro­kers, stay­ing on top of the lat­est devel­op­ments, indus­try best prac­tices and cus­tomer expec­ta­tions about tele­den­tistry will become ever more impor­tant.