Dentistry is about 14,000 years old, making it the oldest medical specialization in the world. Our understanding of dental care, and the techniques used, have changed drastically since our ancestors began cleaning infected teeth with flint – with the advent of the digital age and the upheaval of the past year, though, could the industry be about to go through its biggest single transformation yet? If the needs of modern dental patients are anything to go by, the post-COVID era will see a radically different approach to oral healthcare.
Remote dental care, often referred to as teledentistry, or now more accurately defined as smart dental, has seen a growth in popularity amongst both patients and dentists as they navigate the necessity to avoid social contact during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just as the business world’s perception has changed on working from home, so too has our approach to remote healthcare. With the convenience of being able to consult with a licensed oral health professional within 24 hours from the comfort of our own home now seen as a viable alternative to the traditional in-person appointments, the modern dental patient will now expect this convenience to continue into the post-COVID era.
The benefits of remote smart dentistry are easy to see; we can all order a household item at the click of a button, or access our bank accounts on our cell phones, even personal training has moved online. So why shouldn’t we be able to access a dental consultation from the comfort of our own sofas? In the age of digital convenience, if there is a way for people already living busy lives to avoid spending too much time in the dentist’s chair, they’ll almost certainly take it. That means that if a dentist now has the ability to determine the status of a patient’s oral health and whether they need in-person intervention or not, patients will expect them to offer that consultative process without the need for a physical appointment.
The ability to have remote, on-demand oral healthcare without the need to wait for an appointment also has the benefit of helping patients to stay ahead of the health curve and avoid dental health issues escalating.
But what are the benefits to dentists?
If consultations can become as convenient as taking a picture with your smartphone and allowing a professional to examine and offer a report within a 24-hour window, many more people are likely to use dental services regularly. Everyone wants to spend more time well than ill, so being able to access preventative consultations and triage more specific concerns immediately should encourage many more patients to address minor issues before they become major, stick to regular check-ups, and increase access to individuals many providers may have not been able to reach before.
Additionally, dentists can use pre-existing data on, for example, an individual’s diet to give additional recommendations on oral health. This information, combined with the ability to assess a patient’s oral health via photos submitted through dental apps, could enable dentists to offer a better, more convenient service to patients without taking up precious time in their dental chairs. This allows dentists to focus on more complex treatments and solving problems that require, and appropriately reward, their significant training and expertise.
In just about all aspects of our lives, we’re entering into a new era following COVID-19 and the dental industry is no different. Just as it has over the past 14,000 years of existence, dentistry now needs to adapt to reflect both technological advances and changing public expectations. With advances in techniques in centuries gone by, and aided by pharmaceutical breakthroughs like the introduction of dental anaesthetics, dentists have been able to offer new procedures while improving patient comfort. Now, as we firmly enter the next stage of the digital age, dentists have the opportunity to move with the rest of society to give dental patients the ultimate service in terms of convenience, comfort and outcome.