Prepare for the Future of Teledentistry: Would You Get Your Teeth Checked Online?

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The future of teledentistry may mean having x-rays like this one checked remotely.

Home dentistry does not sound pleasant. Or like a wise idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure the term is used as an insult.

If you took the DIY and Marathon Man overtones out of the phrase, however…OK, it still sounds weird.

But that’s a future we may one day inhabit. Of course, the future of teledentistry involves health professionals and possibly a new generation of webcams and augmented reality technology to link us with our remote oral hygienist–not necessarily just a Skype session like the one you might have with your sister in Tallahassee.

Still, it’s hard to believe that a future exists in which your dental examination would be performed at home by a dentist working over video conference in an office far away. The present-day practice of teledentistry provides a clear path from now until then, however. We can show you the way.

What Is Teledentistry?

The American Dental Association defines teledentistry as the means for a patient in one physical location to receive services overseen by a dentist who is in another location. That may be pretty much exactly what you were thinking, and it certainly isn’t a very yay-for-technology way of putting things, but there is one very special element to that definition–January 1, 2018 was the first time that definition and the codes of practice for teledentistry were adopted by the ADA.

It’s a tipping point in the history of video conferencing dentistry, a formal acknowledgment that we are all now officially walking down the road toward Skyping a dentist. The ADA decision is timely, because there’s already a teledentistry platform in place waiting to be used.

TeleDent Examinations by Video

At the moment, the company MouthWatch seems to have the teledentistry market all to itself. They have developed an intraoral video camera, shaped a lot like a toothbrush, that is designed to send back live pictures from inside a patient’s mouth. They’ve combined it with software and a tablet to create TeleDent, apparently the first video conferencing tool for dentists.

The camera sends live pictures out over the internet–or it can be used for static recording–that relay, in squeamish detail, the state of every tooth in your head. The remote dentist or hygienist can follow the procedure in real-time on their tablet and can converse with the patient or professional through a more traditional video calling setup. This technology can be deployed in several ways.

Mobile, Visiting Virtual Dentists

Firstly, that ADA definition of teledentistry stipulated the process need only be “overseen” by the dentist. That means we could scatter dental hygienists to the four corners of the globe with intraoral cameras in hand and let the remote dentist oversee examinations from several different locations over the course of a single day.

These traveling professionals could visit large groups of people, such as schools, nursing homes, community centers and clinics on a rotating basis. This system would be most useful in rural areas–where people are starting to receive more and more attention from the wider telehealth field.

As an alternative to putting dental assistants on buses across the nation, a TeleDent-style camera and software could be sent to medical clinics and primary care physicians’ offices. With a little extra training, these doctors, who often sit at the center of their community’s health needs anyway, could perform basic procedures with the experts looking on from afar. They would not be able to perform complex extractions and other more delicate procedures, but it would be a way to screen and diagnose large groups of people quickly.

And if a primary care physician could be taught to maneuver an intraoral camera they’d no doubt never previously encountered, would it be a stretch to think a parent could do the same?

The Future of Teledentistry: Dentistry in the Home

Telehealth, in general, is getting very good at sending a patient’s vital signs over the web. There is a range of digital stethoscopes currently available that can be used by a remote patient to pass on in real-time information about their heart, lungs, ears, throat, skin, and temperature.

As with the TeleDent camera, the patient would only need to move the stethoscope under the direction of their doctor for the procedure to have value.

A little technical evolution would help the situation as well. By adding an augmented reality capability, the remote dentist could draw on and mark the features and potential problems of a patient’s teeth on their home screen and record the result for later–much the same way you can draw on a friend’s face during a SnapChat call.

And there you are, in your living room, getting a dental check-up. Provided the patient’s internet connection is strong enough to convey the necessary HD visuals, a dentist could examine every member of a family. Any issues, like cavities requiring filling or damaged crowns, might need to be fixed elsewhere (at least for the foreseeable future), but at least you could find out if your teeth needed work before leaving your house.

It’s not home dentistry after all. More like dentistry at home.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Dan Ox

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