Is It Time to Invest in the Teledentistry Boom?

Marc Ackerman DMD, MBA, Executive Director of the American Teledentistry Association

As the demand for telehealth accelerates across all healthcare sectors, it’s a great time to take advantage of the opportunity to invest in, adopt, and expand virtual dental treatment options. With the teledentistry market poised to reach $2.6 billion by the end of the decade, there has never been a better time for dentists and investors to leverage the potential of telemedicine.

Teledentistry Can Capitalize on Telemedicine’s Success

The rapid rise in telehealth use since 2020 has forced healthcare providers to evolve their treatment approach. Patients now seek out virtual treatment options, with 50 million Americans stating that they would switch to a provider that offers telehealth. The American Telemedicine Association projects that 50% of healthcare services in the U.S. will be conducted virtually by 2030. Failing to invest resources into telemedicine means failing to participate in the evolving healthcare industry.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not unexpectedly, dental adoption of telehealth has lagged, due, in part, to the fact that treating a patient in a virtual environment instead of a dental chair can present challenges. However, today’s ever evolving tech tools and new treatment practices can help dental providers keep up with advances in the field and avoid the need for chair time in a physical setting. It is, simply put, time for dentistry to join the rest of healthcare in using today’s technology. While many circumstances will still require in-person treatment, teledentistry can complement and enhance traditional treatment methods in a wide variety of situations.

Teledentistry Adoption is Accelerating

The industry is changing, and it’s changing fast. A recent study found that 93% of dentists expect teledentistry to lead to long-term changes in how they practice. Early adopters stated that benefits included faster treatment planning, effective consultations, and reduced patient time in the dental chair. Lowering the need for chair time allows dentists to provide care to patients who truly need in-office treatment.

Many dental and orthodontic companies have already started seeing the benefits of investing in telemedicine. Recent examples include Dentsply Sirona’s 2021 acquisition of Byte, quip’s recently announced acquisition of Toothpic, and Align Technology’s increasing emphasis on growing its digital toolset. These companies and investors are realizing the potential of teledentistry, bolstered by the success of industry pioneers like SmileDirectClub.

Real-World Ways to Leverage Teledentistry

Changing longstanding practices (like shifting to virtual appointments instead of in-person visits) can be an adjustment, but integrating teledentistry into a dental practice benefits both the patient and the provider.

  • Efficient Virtual Appointments: This allows the dentist to identify any preliminary issues that might require an in-person appointment, or which can instead be treated by the dentist virtually. Video appointments also reserve valuable time in the chair for patients who need it, offering more availability for patients who must be seen in the office without having to expand practice hours or days or add additional staff.
  • Rural or Underserved Outreach: For patients without local access to affordable care, teledentistry can provide a faster and more efficient way to connect with a dentist.
  • Dental-Medical Collaboration: Teledentistry makes it easier and faster to share information with a patient’s other medical providers for more in-depth health issues.
  • Alleviate Patient Concerns: Teledentistry can also address patient concerns like easing fear or anxiety around a dental visit, managing time away from work or child care, and offering greater access to care.

Teledentistry Addresses Critical Financial Issues Facing Healthcare and Dentistry

A consistent rise in healthcare costs coupled with today’s inflationary environment is forcing patients to make difficult healthcare decisions. A recent survey revealed that 29% of consumers said inflation impacts their decision to seek dental care. Patients who forgo routine dental care in the interest of cutting costs can experience long-term health challenges down the road, as oral health issues can often signal other problems like diabetes and heart disease. Reaching patients sooner and more efficiently (no missing work, no travel costs, etc) through teledentistry means helping patients better manage their overall health, as well as their short- and long-term medical costs.

Technological advancements in teledentistry bridge affordability gaps and allow for more accessible, equitable treatment. New research found that 47% of respondents struggle to receive quality, affordable dental or orthodontic care. By managing costs and providing care without patients taking time off for an appointment, dentists can offer resources and treatment to help mitigate large disparities in dental care. In addition, providing quality virtual treatment to patients in rural or underserved populations means improved education, care, and overall oral and general health.

Regulatory and Legislative Considerations of Teledentistry

The pandemic spurred a major rise in the need for telehealth, which in turn led to a rise in regulatory and legislative discussions around managing teledentistry. Dental industry leaders are working to provide guidelines around telemedicine to advocate for the vital role dentists play in advancing healthcare technology. Recently, the American Teledentistry Association and the American Telemedicine Association aligned on guiding principles for telehealth legislation, encouraging an approach that enhances access to dental care, rather than diminishing it. Industry, government, and regulatory organizations are recognizing what patients have known for a long time: telehealth provides an affordable, accessible way to get crucial care.

Teledentistry is the Next Generation of Treatment

Embracing telemedicine means embracing the future of dental care. Teledentistry services will soon be considered the cost of entry in the dental industry, and those who implement tech-forward practices will set themselves up for long-term success.

With the global telemedicine market projected to exceed $130 billion by 2025, the need is clear, the technology is available, patients are excited about the possibilities, and dentists are already enhancing their services with teledentistry. The technical revolution in dental care is here, and it’s up to each of us to decide how to seize the opportunity.

Dr. Marc Ackerman DMD, MBA is the Executive Director of the American Teledentistry Association. Clinically, he specializes in the orthodontic treatment of patients with dentofacial deformity, intellectual and physical disabilities and sleep-disordered breathing.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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