As businesses, schools and organizations continue to adapt to COVID-19, dental offices are embracing new conferencing tools to deliver care safely.

As part of the reopening efforts, more dentists and their patients have turned to teledentistry, an emerging trend that has the power to reshape the industry as we know it. Approximately 25% of dentists reported using some form of virtual, limited evaluation of patients, according to an April COVID-19 economic tracking poll from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. In July, the HPI poll showed usage slipping to 12%, noting that larger group practices are more likely to use teledentistry than solo practices.

Dr. Nathan Suter, owner of a House, Missouri, dental practice and a consulting firm, Access Teledentistry, predicts teledentistry will become more mainstream. This is due to its multiple uses, such as when a dentist is traveling or if there is a schedule conflict.

For your employees, this is a valuable option in maintaining their oral health. As a primer on teledentistry, here are insights on its use and impact and how Delta Dental is supporting this advance in care.

What is teledentistry?

Teledentistry is when a dentist conducts a virtual consultation via phone, text or video to diagnose issues, offer care advice and determine if an in-person visit is necessary.

Teledentistry appointments can be synchronous, such as a video call where the dentist and patient are interacting with each other, or asynchronous, such as when the patient sends a description of his or her situation and a photo and waits for a reply.

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equipment and software needed may vary based on dentists’ preferences and capabilities. Teledentistry may require nothing more than a phone or may require a smart device, computer or specialized app. Businesses now incorporate videoconferencing software for team meetings, and this can be used in dental consultations.

If dental offices have reopened, why is teledentistry relevant?

Dentist offices may be open, but that doesn’t mean that your employees won’t benefit from teledentistry solutions. Just as working from home has shown the value of video meetings and connecting with co-workers without being in person, employees may find teledentistry a useful option when seeking dental care.

In a public opinion survey, 70% of respondents indicated they would take a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available, and 12% are waiting for a vaccine to go back to the dentist, according to Sports and Leisure Research Group’s “Back to Normal Barometer” in July.

Whether your employees are eager or hesitant to return the dentist, teledentistry is the perfect tool for staying in touch, getting care and getting advice without going into the dentist’s office. The ADA has issued guidelines for teledentistry, specifying patient rights regarding this delivery of care.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry appointments at the same benefit levels as diagnostic services to ensure that employees have coverage for their dental needs while staying safe from COVID-19. We’re encouraging dentists to use teledentistry for emergency diagnoses and non-emergency consultations.

What’s more, Delta Dental is looking into partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for both dentists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the benefits industry?

Even as vaccines are distributed and control of the COVID-19 virus can be managed, your employees may expect teledentistry to be included as a standard part of any insurance plan (for example, Kaiser Permanente is launching plans with a heavy focus on telehealth). Employees may shy away from plans and dentists that can’t accommodate teledentistry. Those who live in remote areas may gain better access to professional care through teledentistry.

Dentists may incorporate teledentistry as a viable option in their scheduling so your employees can receive care when and how they need it.

Is teledentistry covered by Delta Dental plans?

Delta Dental covers teledentistry services as problem-focused exams. That means they fall into the category of diagnostic care, and are subject to the same rules and limitations (for example, diagnostic and preventive services are usually covered at no cost to the patient, but only a certain number of such appointments are covered each year).

With dental offices adapting to safety needs, you can encourage your employees to maintain their oral health. Teledentistry provides a vital option for them to manage their care through regular checkups and access to expert consultation.