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.