FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Tag: teledentistry (Page 1 of 3)

How COVID-19 brought challenges and solutions to dentistry for seniors

Times of crisis call for creative solutions, and that’s never been more evident than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovative dentists have sought to adapt many aspects of their practices, but especially those involving the most vulnerable segment of our population: older adults.

New challenges for seniors’ oral health

For many seniors, even before the advent of COVID-19, physical limitations, systemic disease, cognitive decline and dependence on caregivers could all lead to an overall decline in oral health. What’s more, the pandemic worsened many of these same problems while presenting new ones.

“COVID-19 laid bare weaknesses in our elder care system,” said moderator Stephen K. Shuman, DDS, MS, in a webinar on pandemic-related disruptions in oral health care hosted by the Gerontological Society of America.

Some of the challenges in oral health care for seniors during the pandemic have included:

  • Reduced access. Early in the pandemic, many dentists’ offices shuttered, and even when they reopened, fear of COVID-19 led many older adults to delay or entirely forego visits to the dentist’s office. Nearly half of U.S. adults reported delaying dental care due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring of 2020, and the increased risk posed by COVID-19 to seniors likely exacerbated the problem among older adults.
  • Reduced care. In long-term care facilities, daily brushing, flossing and other routine care tasks were sometimes put on the back burner as COVID-19 diverted staff members to provide more urgent care to those affected or at risk. Proper oral care could also be challenged by staff members’ fears about the potential for oral transmission of COVID-19. Staffing shortages in facilities and on oral care teams made the situation worse. Georgia and Minnesota reported staffing shortages in long-term care facilities of more than 25% during the pandemic, and a recent poll from the ADA Health Policy Institute found that more than 80% of owner dentists who are currently hiring consider recruitment of dental hygienists and assistants to be extremely or very challenging at this time.
  • Psychosocial problems. The loneliness, anxiety and depression caused by shelter-at-home orders could themselves worsen oral health among older Americans.

Solutions in oral health care for seniors during the pandemic

Just as the COVID-19 presented new problems, it also created potential for positive long-term change.

Teledentistry and teletriage

Through necessity, many dentists began refining techniques for the use of teledentistry and teletriage.

Some companies began implementing or built up their existing “pandemic teledentistry.” Teams used cloud-based electronic health records and taught long-term care facility staff how to take useful images of patient mouths and send them to centrally located dentists.

At the height of the pandemic, 24.8% of responding dentists reported they were conducting remote problem-focused evaluations through virtual technology or telecommunications, according to polling from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute.

Some innovative dentists used what they referred to as assisted, or guided, oral hygiene during the pandemic. They used the latest audio and video technology to guide a patient or caregiver as they carried out oral hygiene on a regularly scheduled basis. Some caregivers, such as Michael J. Helgeson, DDS, of Apple Tree Dental, saw the technology as a key way to maintain dental health care for seniors during the pandemic when in-person care wasn’t possible.

Mobile dentistry

While the pandemic restricted mobile care in some cases, its primary advantage of reducing the need to transport at-risk seniors also caused it to emerge as another possible solution.

Many dentists were already accustomed to setting up mobile units in long term care facilities even before the pandemic. Mobile dentistry helps reduce the potential for stress and confusion caused by moving older patients or those with dementia. With the latest mobile equipment deployed to long-term care facilities, dentists are able to perform simple extractions, restorative work and more in a timely manner. As in many dental offices, mobile units often add an external dental suction that uses ultraviolet light and filters to remove pathogens from the air.

How to support your senior patients through the pandemic

COVID-19 presented extraordinary challenges to your senior patients. The new solutions that helped maintain health care for older adults during the pandemic are likely here to stay.

To support your senior patients throughout the pandemic:

  • Communicate with patients. Oral health care should never be placed on the back burner, and maintaining good communication with your patients is one of the most crucial keys to emphasizing the importance of oral health. As always, keep in mind the systemic relationship between oral health and overall well-being. Use empathic listening and compassionate care to encourage the maintenance of oral hygiene routines among your senior patients throughout the pandemic.
  • Consider adopting new approaches. Teledentistry can now connect oral health care providers with older adults remotely when patients are unable to visit a dental clinic or if there are restrictions on dental providers visiting residential facilities. The use of mobile dentistry during the pandemic likewise bodes well for its future implementation as a solution for the needs of seniors in long term care facilities for whom transport is an issue.

How dental technology can help take your care to the next level

As technology rapidly evolves, innovative new software and hardware have begun to appear in dental offices and schools around the country. Here are a few interesting and promising technologies that might be coming to your office soon.

Teledentistry

Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, teledentistry has been expanding rapidly — in a recent survey, 34% of dentists reported that they see patients via telehealth platforms or plan to use it in the near future — and it’s projected to be a $2.6B industry by 2027.

A variety of services fall under the teledentistry umbrella, including:

  • Teleconsultation, in which a patient receives a consultation via a mobile device or computer
  • Telediagnosis, where images and data received from patients are used to evaluate and diagnose dental issues
  • Telemonitoring, where patients who have undergone treatment can be monitored without frequent in-person visits to the dentist

Along with making dental care more accessible to patients during the pandemic, teledentistry has proven to be a useful tool treating for underserved populations. Low-income patients, rural patients, elderly patients in assisted living facilities and physically and intellectually disabled patients can face obstacles with in-person visits.

While teledentistry has shown great promise, the technology associated with it can be challenge for both dentists and patients. To help, we’ve introduced Delta Dental – Virtual Consult. This free, video-based platform enables you to consult with Delta Dental members virtually through a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform.

Artificial intelligence

While the first thing that pops into you head when you hear the term “artificial intelligence” might be science fiction, the science behind artificial intelligence isn’t fiction. And it’s available to help you right now.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, uses software to process information and learn patterns. As it gathers more information, it learns to assess situations and then make decisions or predict outcomes. As a result, AI can improve your ability to detect dental conditions quickly and accurately, and consistently provide you with the appropriate treatment. In ambiguous situations, AI can provide you with a second opinion.

So far, AI has proven to be a versatile tool for dentists, with these applications:

  • Making objective, consistent diagnoses for issues such as cavities
  • Diagnosing certain dental conditions, especially ones that may be caused by multiple factors, such as jaw issues and canker sores
  • Identifying patients at risk for developing oral cancers
  • Creating precise aligners
  • Determining orthodontic dental plans, including how the patient’s teeth should be moved, how much pressure should be applied to teeth and where pressure points on specific teeth are

Extended reality

Speaking of science fiction, another emerging technology that might have seemed impossible just a few years ago is extended reality, which includes several technologies:

  • Virtual reality (VR), a computer-generated, interactive, three-dimensional reality
  • Augmented reality (AR), an enhanced version of reality that combines real objects with computer-generated images, sounds or other sensory elements
  • Mixed reality (MR), a combination of the two

These technologies have potential applications in the dental field, including:

  • Planning and executing oral and maxillofacial surgeries, particularly implant placement and head and neck reconstructions. For example, with mandibular and maxillary reconstructions, a study found an excellent match between the virtual surgery plans and the actual outcomes, including the resection planes and the distance between the transplanted segments and the bone.
  • Education and training. Immersive 3D training with haptic feedback can be an effective and cost-saving training tool. Particularly useful is the ability to not only simulate a procedure in 3D, but also to be able to feel how much pressure to apply during drilling, cutting and milling through haptic feedback. The virtual simulations also enable students to assess their performance and then refine their technique.

3D printing

Invented in the early 1980s, 3D printers transform digital files into physical objects by stacking layers of material to form three-dimensional objects. Today, 3D printers can make objects from a variety of materials, including metals, ceramics, plastics and plaster.

3D printers are so adept at creating dental devices that the dental industry has become one of the leading users of 3D printing. Clear aligners are one of the highest volume applications for 3D printing technologies in the world.

3D printers may enable dental labs and offices to produce dental devices more quickly, accurately, consistently and inexpensively than human technicians can. With this improving technology and the exponential growth of clear aligner production, it’s estimated that by 2022 as many as 500 million dental devices and restorations will be produced annually with 3D printing technology. These include:

  • Crowns
  • Bridges
  • Dentures
  • Dental models
  • Retainers
  • Surgical guides for implants
  • Veneers
  • Orthodontic models

These are just a few of the innovations coming to your office soon. New technology continues to provide innovative ways to help you improve the accuracy, efficiency and value of the dental care you provide to your patients.

Teledentistry is now available in Texas

On June 16, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed HB 2056 into law, making it legal for Texas dentists to provide teledentistry services to their patients. Among other provisions, the law:

  • Requires informed consent from the patient
  • Establishes standards of care for teledentistry
  • Protects patient privacy
  • Promotes care for underserved areas
  • Addresses teledentistry’s use in treating patients with special needs
  • Sets up rules for Medicaid and teledentistry
  • Requests biennial reports on teledentistry’s effectiveness
  • Empowers the Texas Medical Board and State Board of Dental Examiners to set rules for teledentistry

Building up teledentistry services from scratch can seem daunting, but there are tools and resources out there that make it easy. From guides on how to see patients to tools like Delta Dental – Virtual Consult that help you easily expand your practice, Delta Dental makes it easy for you to find success with teledentistry.

Interested? Just fill out the interest form and we’ll reach out to you about getting started with Virtual Consult.

Kids’ unmet oral health needs highlighted by the pandemic

Do you know how many of your patients plan to become pregnant or adopt a child in the next year? Unlike physicians, you probably see most of your patients every six months. In the space between cleanings, a woman could be almost 2/3 of the way through a pregnancy or an average adoption could be nearly finalized.

Since visits can be far apart, communication is key. When your patients tell you about plans to have a child, tell them how important it is to consider dental health and visits to the dentist as an important part of a child’s overall health. Less than half of parents receive professional advice on when to start taking their child to the dentist, which can lead to early oral health problems and dental disease.

The pandemic’s effect on pediatric oral health

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, dental disease among children was rampant:

The pandemic made these problems worse by stressing the financial systems that deliver dental care with job loss that led to lack of coverage and loss in income. As a result of the pandemic, households were three times more likely to indicate that dental care was an unmet health need of theirs rather than medical care, according to a JADA study. The authors found a significant association between the probability of unmet child dental care and pandemic-related household income or job loss.

About 40% of families reported the loss of a job or decrease in income due to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, children from families with lower incomes or on Medicaid were twice as likely to have cavities than children from higher-income households. Whether due to lost or decreased income, fear of contracting COVID-19 or mixed communication from health organizations, dental care visits dropped in 2020.

Luckily, households were unlikely to completely lose health insurance during the pandemic. Robust signups for Medicare and Medicaid kept many people insured. But cost remains the major barrier to receiving dental care. Although access to pediatric dental care has grown for families with public insurance since the early 2000s, inequitable access continues to be linked to socioeconomic status. Additional barriers include difficulty finding a dentist, transportation and geographic proximity to available dentists.

What you can do to address unmet needs

As a dentist or a hygienist, you’ve got a lot to do in a day. You can still find ways to address children’s health that fit into your office’s workflow. Here are some examples you can use to start the conversation with your co-workers and with patients:

  • Talk about timelines. Be sure to inform any new parents, guardians or caretakers about recommended timelines for pediatric care to guarantee they get the information they need from a trusted source.
  • Get innovative. Did you know that 75% of pediatric dentists offer virtual services, compared to only a third of general dentists? If you haven’t explored teledentistry services, consider adding them to your repertoire.
  • Share materials. Explore Delta Dental’s wellness resources and share a selection of helpful articles and flyers in your office or on your website. You can even highlight assets that are made for kids, like MySmileKids and Grin! for Kids.
  • Collaborate instead of criticizing. Making a patient feel guilty, ashamed or afraid for their health rarely works to inspire improvement. Focus on behaviors that they can change and empower them with knowledge.
  • Gather information. Your patients may feel uncomfortable if you ask them directly about their plans to conceive or adopt in the next year. If your practice already does pre-screenings, consider adding a question to capture that information and add it to the patient’s file.

How Delta Dental invests in communities

The best way to treat the pediatric oral health dilemma is large investment in public dental health, something dentists can’t really do on their own. The COVID-19 pandemic stressed the financial system that supports the delivery of dental care services, revealing that changes are required to support access to dental care during times of changing financial situations.

To help dentists make investments in their communities, the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation awards several million dollars in grants each year to increase access to care. These awards enable underserved individuals, including children, to get preventive and restorative treatments in accessible locations. More than 250 organizations received funding from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation during the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling $11 million to provide relief. Many of these clinics support and serve children.

These Access to Care grants fund activities designed to remove barriers to seeking care such as distance, cost and even fear. The grants can be used to set up mobile or pop-up clinics in a local community, provide dental care in underserved clinical settings, fund outreach programs or offset costs for clinics that routinely provide care to underserved populations.

What comes next

The U.S. economy seems to be recovering. The national unemployment rate is projected to fall to 5.3% by the end of the year. But the problems highlighted by the pandemic shouldn’t be ignored.

As a dentist or dental hygienist, you can’t be expected to fix all of the problems in the American economy or health care industry. Still, by making active efforts to be accessible and communicative with your patients, you can make a difference in their lives and the lives of their children.

Grow your practice with Virtual Consult

Is your practice ready to offer virtual dentistry to your patients? In 2019, the global teledentistry market stood at a little more than $667 million. Before the decade is over, the market is expected to reach $2.6 billion. You won’t want to miss out on that kind of growth.

But teledentistry isn’t just a great business opportunity. It’s also great for patients. As Dr. Deirmenjian, the CEO of Smiles West Dental Management says, “We firmly believe that teledentistry will continue to be the future of building healthier smiles.”

Setting up a teledentistry space in your office may sound expensive and daunting if you don’t already have the necessary equipment and a speedy internet connection. Fortunately, there’s a tool that makes teledentistry simple: Delta Dental – Virtual Consult. If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s not too late!

Virtual Consult is the perfect tool to increase your access to patients and your earning potential. Virtual Consult lets you check in with and diagnose Delta Dental members remotely, all with an emphasis on simplicity when it comes to scheduling and claims. With Virtual Consult, you can:

  • Increase your patient volume and attract new patients
  • Save time and money
  • Set your own hours
  • Get detailed training and support
  • Automate communications with your patients

Interested? Just fill out the online form and we’ll reach out to you about getting started with Virtual Consult.

Upcoming Provider Tools webinars in May

Are you ready to improve your productivity by attending one of our convenient one-hour Provider Tools webinars? You’ll learn:

  • How to set up your account
  • How to use Provider Tools to manage patient interactions
  • How to submit claims in real time and track them
  • How to sign up for direct deposit

You’ll also be able to learn more about Delta Dental – Virtual Consult, a new virtual dentistry tool that you can use for one-on-one video appointments with patients.

Don’t miss out — register for one of these webinars today:

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