Remote Dentistry – The Future, Or A Risk To Our Teeth?

Will a time come when you don’t have to visit your local dentist?

Dentist with x-rayGoing to the dentist for a regular checkup has become routine for most of us, or at least had until the start of the pandemic. Gradually, as dental practices return to normal, this will start to happen once again. Those of you who use social media a lot though may have noticed what seems to be an ever increasing number of dental treatments that are offered with some degree of remoteness.

As we become more accustomed to technology and given that most of us would like to save time where possible, could this be the future of dentistry, or is this something that might be more problematic for our Canterbury patients?

At Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic, we value the face to face meetings with our patients. Not only does this allow us to physically examine your teeth and gums, but also helps us to put you at ease. With nervous patients, for example, they might be reluctant to tell us of a problem as they want to avoid treatment. Detecting these problems though and talking them through any procedures can really put them at ease and help them to keep their teeth and gums healthy.

Let’s take a look then, at some of the types of ‘remote dentistry’ that you may have heard about.

Initial virtual consultations

During lockdown, some dental practices have used video communications to hold consultations with their patients.  Whilst few would probably want this as an alternative to physical visits, they have certainly been useful during this last year or so. The question is whether these are likely to continue once things return completely to normal. In our opinion, there may be a use for this type of remote care. It could potentially save time for both patient and dentist where an initial consultation could be held remotely. Although in most cases, this may well also require a follow up visit to the dentist, it could remain useful for initial consultations, and especially cosmetic ones.

We feel then, that the use of this technology will almost certainly have a role to play but will not completely replace the traditional visit to your dentist.

Remote treatment

Perhaps of more concern are the actual treatments that are offered remotely. These not only offer advice but also offer actual treatment. Whilst surgical procedures such as dental implant placement could never be offered this way, some popular cosmetic treatments are. We take a look at the practicalities of this below, using the common example of teeth straightening.

Many of you will have seen advertisements offering this treatment remotely. To do this, you are sent a kit to enable you to take impressions of your teeth, and trays are then sent through the post for you to use in order to straighten your teeth.

Whilst this might seem similar to the Invisalign orthodontic treatment that we offer, we feel that there are a number of differences. For instance, Invisalign trays are made from a strong and durable medical grade plastic and are recognised as being a reliable provider. Whilst some of those offered online may well be of good quality, there is no real way of knowing until you have paid your money and received the trays, by which time, it might be too late.

From the treatment point of view, we feel that there are two potential problems.

Firstly, although you might be able to take impressions of your teeth, you can’t be sure that there are no other oral health issues present when you do. Issues such as tooth decay and gum disease can be present, especially in the early stages, without the patient being aware. These could not only make the wearing of the trays uncomfortable as the treatment progresses but could even cause the situation to become worse. In contrast, if you have orthodontic treatment at our Canterbury dental clinic, you will always have a thorough oral health check and any necessary treatment before attempts are made at straightening your teeth.

There is also the issue of ongoing care during the treatment, which could last for a year or more depending on how badly crooked your teeth are.

Some of these products offered only include ongoing remote supervision. You are invited to take photographs of your teeth and upload these so that a dentist can examine them and make any recommendations. The issue here is that a photograph can only tell so much of a story and could even give the impression that all is going well, when it isn’t. A straightforward example of this would be if you had tooth decay developing at the rear of a tooth. This would be virtually impossible to photograph and, left undetected, would get worse as your treatment progressed and could damage the very teeth that you are straightening in the hope of a more attractive smile!

At Bradley and Partners Dental and Implant Clinic, our orthodontic patients will be invited back at regular intervals so that we can monitor not only the progress of the treatment, but also the health of your teeth and gums. Our aim is the same as yours; to complete the treatment with a healthy and attractive set of teeth.

In summary then, whilst we feel that remote dental care may have a role to play over time, treatments currently offered remotely have a number of potential risks attached to them and therefore, we would not necessarily recommend them to our patients at this present time. As a minimum you need to study what is being offered in detail before continuing.

If you would like to have your teeth straightened and would like to discuss this with your dentist, please call us at our Canterbury dental clinic on 01227 463529.