Telehealth Orthodontic Treatment – An Oral Care Revolution

Health systems have rapidly increased the number of telehealth, AI and revenue cycle programs in recent months, as found in a report by the Nokia-UPMC-backed Center for Connected Medicine and KLAS Research. Around 20% of organizations surveyed said they would continue offering virtual visits, and another 17% said they would analyze the financial viability of doing the same. Telehealth is currently being used to diagnose or treat a wide range of conditions, from obvious use cases such as mental and behavioral health and dermatology, but its use is also growing in less commonly considered healthcare sectors such as teledentistry and especially the orthodontic sector. For orthodontics, its usefulness can extend beyond the current health emergency, since it allows orthodontists to provide care to rural facilities, developing communities, and correctional facilities that may not be able to afford permanent orthodontists. 

The Benefits Of Tele Orthodontics

There are many ways in which telemedicine can benefit both professionals and patients. It reduces the need for travel, enables orthodontists to offer early diagnosis and recommendations, reduces orthodontics-related costs, improves management, and allows for close monitoring via online follow-ups. It also enables patients to avoid losing income owing to missed work during face-to-face visits, and provides better access to more frequent consultations.

Telehealth In Orthodontics A Success

Recent research by scientists at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery (Orthodontic Department) at the University of Padua recently set out to assess the usefulness of telemedicine in orthodontics. Their study focused on patients aged 10 to 16 who used mobile videophone technology to communicate with their orthodontists. The results of the study showed that “most orthodontic emergencies can be dealt with at home.” These emergencies include the displacement of rubber ligatures, discomfort due to braces, and irritation of the inner cheeks. The patients reported that telemedicine was easy and effective. Video conferencing also provides the chance for parents to ask what kids with orthodontics can eat, and receive advice on how to clean and maintain braces. It is known that some foods (i.e. those which are hard and capable of distorting braces) should be avoided. However, those encountering new food types can ask their orthodontist about their effect on everything from discomfort to potential damage to their apparatus.

What Tasks Can Orthodontists Carry Out Remotely?

The report “Teledentistry, Do-It-Yourself Orthodontics, and Remote Treatment Monitoring” by Neal Kravitz and colleagues shows that the benefits of telehealth for orthodontics lies beyond dealing with emergencies alone. Just a few applications of this technology, they report, include examination of the patient, reviewing health histories, diagnosing malocclusions, and offering recommendations for specific treatment in the patient’s area. Such is the popularity of tele orthodontics that it has led to the development of so-called “‘DIY braces”’ involving mail-order, direct-to-customer aligner apparatuses that improve alignment without the need to visit an orthodontist. This is achieved by patients receiving a kit that enables them to take their own impressions and photographs. They can also have a digital impression scan taken at specific locations. Professionals then utilize this information to formulate a treatment plan. In around 30% of cases, doctors reject this plan owing to their complexity, but the majority of plans are approved. Ideally, of course a preliminary face-to-face visit is key so that orthodontists can check general oral health and determine the best option for each patient. 

Technology for Teledentistry and Teleorthodontics

Just a few digital technologies that aid in image and impression taking include apps for smartphones that allow for the remote monitoring of orthodontic patients using an artificial intelligence algorithm. One such app is Dental Monitoring, which allows the orthodontist to obtain a precise record of the patient’s occlusion with the aid of the smartphone’s integrated camera. The patient essentially records an interoral movie that is then transformed by the app into a scan. Thanks to this technology, dentists can monitor treatment outcomes in real time, regardless of their or their patients’ location. The scan taken enables orthodontists to spot problems such as broken ligatures, debonded brackets, and non-tracking aligners. They can offer a quick solution instead of allowing the problem to exacerbate.

The Importance of HIPAA-Compliant Features

Because telehealth video visits are relatively new to the orthodontics scene, specialists should speak to website developers about including a HIPAA-chat feature solution so as to ensure the security of patients. They should also talk to their IT team about offering HIPAA-compliant live chats, which rely on features such as encryption and a multi-factor authentication process. Live chats can be particularly useful at a time in which the number of emergency bookings dentists can take are significantly less. It enables patients to receive quick answers to their queries and enables dental teams to determine whether or not a visit is crucial. Clinics can request that specific features be included into their chat system – including two-way messaging (which patients can use, for instance, to request a video conference or appointment).

Telemedicine has advanced in leaps and bounds in the orthodontics sector in recent years, and it is predicted to continue doing so in the future. Orthodontists can diagnose, treat, and perform follow-ups on patients who are unable to travel for reasons such as work, health conditions, and distance from clinics. Currently, telemedicine has various applications in oral health – including the provision of DIY apparatuses which are overseen by certified orthodontists.

Photo by Quang Tri NGUYEN on Unsplash