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Study finds teledentistry a valid substitute for in-person initial consultations

By Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International
September 01, 2021

LONDON, UK: The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the widespread adoption of videoconferencing tools in many industries, and dentistry is no exception. A new study has found that, for triage purposes and initial consultations, teledentistry has a relatively high acceptance rate among dentists and patients alike and is largely perceived to be a viable alternative to in-person dental check-ups.

The study was led by an interdisciplinary team of periodontists and psychologists from King’s College London, who set out to measure dental professionals’ and patients’ attitudes towards teledentistry and how these services could be improved. Before and after video consultations between 1 July and 14 December 2020, a series of questionnaires were answered by the 228 individuals who participated.

Overall, 75.7% of the patients surveyed strongly agreed that they were comfortable accessing a dental consultation via video rather than attending an in-person dental check-up. Almost 80% of patients stated that they would recommend the video consultation, and whereas 77.4% of all respondents stated that they perceived video consultations to be either extremely or somewhat helpful prior to their appointments, this figure jumped to 87.1% after their appointments had been conducted.

There were some marked differences between the perceptions of different dental specialists regarding the helpfulness of teledentistry—perceptions that shifted once an appointment had taken place. Whereas 23.5% of periodontists believed a video appointment would not be helpful prior to it having taken place, 35.2% deemed it unhelpful post-appointment. In contrast, 76.9% of restorative specialists thought, pre-appointment, that a virtual check-up would prove to be unhelpful. Post-appointment, this number dropped down to 30.8%, and 38.5% admitted that it had, indeed, proved helpful.

“As people tend to be working from home, and travelling into cities less, online appointments are a solution to a busy work schedule, and to help maintain social distancing in hospitals,” Prof. Luigi Nibali, director of the postgraduate periodontics programme at King’s and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

“Patients are also able to access healthcare earlier, receive specialist care, minimise time off work and reduce travel over long distances to receive consultations,” he added.

Co-author Dr Payvand Menhadji pointed out that dental professionals can likewise benefit from video appointments.

“For clinicians, teledentistry has the potential to triage referrals and reduce long waiting lists,” she said.

Menhadji added: “It has proven to be more cost-effective than real-time in-person clinical consultations in dentistry. By giving patients reassurance, oral hygiene instructions and a follow-up video consultation to review the issue, it is possible to reduce the number of appointments requiring face-to-face contact.”

The study, titled “Patients’ and dentists’ perceptions of tele-dentistry at the time of COVID-19. A questionnaire-based study”, was published online on 13 August 2021 in the Journal of Dentistry, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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