Advances in technology and dentistry are making telehealth visits with a dentist easily accessible and affordable for patients. Telehealth with a dental professional facilitates communication about dental concerns, allows for sharing images and videos, and supports providers with assessment, triage, diagnosis, and treatment planning.
This article will discuss when to use telehealth services with a dentist, benefits and challenges to navigating telehealth, steps to take in preparation for a visit, and what to expect when meeting with a dentist.
When to Use Telehealth With a Dentist
While telehealth visits with a dentist are not a new concept, COVID-19 brought many changes and impacted access to face-to-face care. Telehealth visits are a creative and effective solution for utilizing telehealth services during the pandemic and beyond.
Although providers continue to take every precaution necessary to keep their patients and themselves safe when meeting in person, telehealth visits can be a viable option for people who want to be seen from the comfort of their homes, desire or require flexibility in meeting with a provider, have limited access to care, or are seeking a more affordable option for treatment.
Dentists can assess and monitor a variety of dental health conditions through telehealth. Examples of concerns that may be appropriate for a telehealth visit with a dentist or dental professional include:
- Seeking consultation for a dental issue
- Experiencing a toothache
- Having a concern about your gums
- When a tooth is chipped or broken
- Appearance of an oral lesion
- Worries that you might have a cavity
- Interest in teeth straightening
- Worries about an impacted tooth
- Discussing overbite options
- Discussing a diagnosis that needs to be monitored by a dental professional
While telehealth visits can provide timely access to a provider, a comprehensive assessment and testing may be needed to diagnose the full extent of a problem. In these cases, a dentist may recommend scheduling an in-person appointment as the best option for consultation.
Scenarios where a dentist may want you to visit the office include:
- Your toothache is severe and you are experiencing significant and consistent pain.
- You have a tooth that is loose or missing.
- You have an abscess.
Upon assessing the problem via telehealth or face-to-face, a dentist may provide a referral to a different kind of dental professional based on the patient’s needs. This may include an endodontist, oral surgeon, periodontist, or orthodontist. If a provider believes your presenting concern poses an immediate risk to your health, they may recommend visiting an urgent care facility or an emergency room.
Benefits and Challenges
Telehealth visits may be an attractive and reasonable option for people seeking consultation and support with dental concerns.
Some benefits of meeting with a dentist via telehealth include:
- Speed: Scheduling a telehealth appointment with a dental professional can speed up the process of being assessed.
- Affordability: In addition to reducing wait times, telehealth visits can be more affordable than office visits.
- Accessibility: Dental telehealth expands services by reaching communities or populations that face challenges getting access to care based on location, resources, and ability. Research has shown that telehealth visits with a dentist can help eliminate disparities in dental care between rural and urban communities by increasing accessibility and affordability.
- Pre-visit information sharing: Telehealth allows patients to share written information and images or videos of their dental health concerns in advance. Dentists can review key information about dental problems before having a live interaction with a patient. Having communication about the concern beforehand helps the dentist determine treatment options.
- Real-time interactions: Telehealth platforms can mimic some of the advantages of seeing a dentist in person, such as making it easier to describe problems in greater detail and show the dentist the area of concern if needed.
Opting to see a provider via telehealth can also come with challenges, including:
- Lack of health insurance: People without health insurance or access to health care may have a harder time finding telehealth services.
- Lack of access to technology: Individuals without resources such as a stable internet connection, a webcam, or a camera to upload photos may struggle to navigate the technology. Telehealth platforms may not supply technical support for individuals trying to make appointments, complete documentation, or upload pictures or videos.
- Financial resources: Individuals without adequate financial means may struggle with the financial requirements needed to seek care via telehealth. Individuals with limited resources may need a variety of options to pay for care.
According to the American TeleDentistry Association, patients who access telehealth dental services can improve their dental care, health, and hygiene, while also benefiting from a cost-effective solution that can mirror the quality of care they would receive at an in-person visit.
Will Insurance Cover Telehealth With a Dentist?
Insurance coverage for telehealth visits with a dentist may vary depending on an individual’s plan, as well as state and federal guidelines. The best way to get information about whether your plan or policy will cover telehealth visits is to contact your insurer directly. Individuals without insurance may need to pay telehealth fees out of pocket. A search for dentists who offer telehealth appointments at reduced costs for people without insurance may provide other options.
How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit With a Dentist
There a few steps that need to be taken in advance of a telehealth visit with a dentist.
Choose a provider (if insured).
If you are established with a dentist who conducts telehealth visits, you can schedule with your current provider. You can also locate a dentist by asking your provider for a referral to someone who offers telehealth. Ask your insurance provider about your coverage in advance of the appointment.
Choose a provider (if not insured).
Conduct a search for dentists who offer telehealth at a lower cost, and evaluate how their services and prices meet your needs.
Determine the telehealth method.
Determine whether you will meet with the practitioner over video or if you will need to send photos of the affected areas ahead of time if the appointment is audio only.
Share in advance.
If you can share pictures in advance, zoom in on the problem and include a view of the area around the issue. Be specific and clear about the affected area and the issue, which will help the dentist begin to understand your needs.
Plan your questions.
Consider how you want to describe your concerns to the dentist, and note any questions you want to get answered. This can help you maximize your visit and ensure that you have a fuller understanding of what the problem means for you.
Familiarize yourself with the platform.
Familiarize yourself with the telehealth platform, and test your equipment beforehand to ensure things go smoothly during your visit. A stable internet connection and working video and/or audio are crucial.
What Happens During the Visit
During your telehealth appointment, the dentist may start by asking you to share some information about your concern. At this time, you may discuss any content, including photos, videos, or notes you submitted before the meeting.
The dentist may then take the opportunity to ask additional questions, which will aid in their ability to assess the problem. These questions may vary based on your concern.
Some common questions a dentist may ask include:
- How long have you been experiencing the issue?
- How do you practice dental hygiene, and how often?
- Are you experiencing any pain? If so, where? How would you rate the pain?
- Any sensitivity to cold, heat, or anything else?
- What prior treatment have you had for the issue?
- When was the last time you had a cleaning?
These questions will help the dentist get a sense of your dental history and hygiene practices, and assess the problems you are experiencing, so they can start working with you to identify a plan of action to treat the issues.
The dentist may provide education about a dental condition and discuss their recommendations, including additional consultation, testing, medication, changes to hygiene practices, or referral.
If a face-to-face visit is needed, the dentist will share that information and talk with you about making an appointment. You can also inquire about the information you need to schedule any referrals if needed.
Make Your Visit Count
Your visit is a time for you to ask questions, make sure you understand your dentist’s recommendations and next steps, and feel clear about the problem, prognosis, and plan.
A Word From Verywell
Going to the dentist can be an anxiety-provoking experience for some people, especially with the added stress of navigating between insurance, finances, and finding a provider. Telehealth can be an appealing option for seeking the consultation and care that you need. Telehealth visits can offer a faster, cost-effective, and comfortable option to address concerns with a professional.
For dentists, telehealth is a great way to expand their reach and offer quality care to potential patients who might not have access to care otherwise. It provides both the dental professional and the patient comfort that their dental health can be safely monitored while at home.