Full promise of teledentistry hinges on dental education according to ADEA report

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated and broadened the use of teledentistry, offering new promise in the ability to reach vulnerable populations in the greatest need of oral healthcare, according to a policy research report from the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).

At the same time, the report, “Teledentistry: Innovation to Improving Access and Delivery to Oral Health Care Services in Dental Education”, said dental education is key to fully realising that potential because of the need to train future dentists on the latest in teledentistry models and processes.

“Health delivery systems, oral health stakeholders and policymakers have a critical role in ensuring teledentistry’s parity is achieved to continue delivering optimal oral health services,” according to the report. “Looking into the future, academic dentistry will be pivotal in educating and training the dentists of tomorrow on teledentistry modalities and offering a new perspective on the delivery of oral healthcare.”

The report noted that the use of teledentistry by dental schools and programmes preceded the pandemic and its application grew once the pandemic hit.

For example, the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco launched in 2010 a “Virtual Dental Home” to address the oral health needs of low-income households in California (United States). During the pandemic, the school dived deeper into teledentistry, using it across academic speciality in dental and dental hygiene departments for consultations with patients and other needs.

In a similar vein, the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry had established a teledentistry network in 2004 linking university specialists to dentists and patients in remote rural areas. During the pandemic, the school expanded its partnership with community health centres for the delivery of oral healthcare services.

The report pointed out that education and training in the application of teledentistry vary by dental school and programme. Additionally, there are no Commission on Dental Accreditation or Liaison Committee on Medical Education standards that address teledentistry or telehealth. Further, there are varying opinions in the dental education profession on whether dental schools should incorporate teledentistry into the curricula due to concerns over factors such as associated financial costs, already overcrowded curriculum and faculty shortages.

Still, the report concluded that if teledentistry is to realise its full potential, dental education must thoroughly integrate it somehow into both didactic learning and clinical simulations.

“While a lecture course in teledentistry would inform and educate the student, the experience of clinical application prepares the student to employ teledentistry in their future practice,” according to the report.

The report’s authors are ADEA staff members Omar A. Escontriás, DrPH, MPH, senior director of Policy Research; Chelsea Skovran, MPA, senior administrative associate; and Denice C. L. Stewart, DDS, MHSA, chief policy officer.

The teledentistry publication is the latest in a regular series of policy research reports published by ADEA’s Office of Policy and Education Research.