As we move further away from traditional forms of diagnosis, medication, and consultation, the potential and promise of the growing telehealth industry blossoms. Over the course of the past decade, the scope of the digital world has expanded into a number of surprising industries, transforming each landscape with high-tech innovation and futurization. The medical industry has been no exception.
While telehealth is the all-encompassing umbrella term for virtual medical and educational services, there are growing niches of other virtual health industries. Teledentistry, in particular, has seen a rise in popularity as accessibility widens across the nation. The dental industry continues to revolutionize by means of 3D printing technological innovation. From repairing broken teeth to making flossing easier, teledentistry aims to do it all.
While the industry is still very new, it’s already a hub of opportunity for both patients and practitioners. With the help of ever-improving 3D technology, the bounds of teledentistry are limitless, bringing dental health care to all. Using this guide, we’ll walk you how 3D printing and teledentistry are pioneering the way toward universal telehealth.
What is teledentistry?
Teledentistry is the use of digital information, imaging, and communication technologies for professional dental care, consultation, and treatment. The technologies used include interactive audio, video, and data communications to provide the highest grade of care. Teledentistry is best characterized by its virtual nature, allowing patients and dentists to receive and administer dental care remotely.
The American Dental Association’s Comprehensive Policy Statement on Teledentistry breaks down modern teledentistry methodologies into three dominant categories .
1. Live video: Real-time two-way interaction between patients and providers utilizing audiovisual telecommunication technologies.
2. Store-and-forward: The transmission of healthcare records via secure electronic communication to a dentist who then uses the information to evaluate a patient’s dental condition.
3. Remote patient monitoring: Enables ongoing personal health and medical data collection outside of traditional clinical settings.
How does teledentistry work?
For most, the idea of virtual healthcare seems far-fetched when traditional practice requires in-person visitation and teledentistry is still in its evolutionary phase. But the methodology behind it can be narrowed down into three key phases: assessment, prescription, and supervision.
Photos and videos taken by the patient can be delivered directly to practitioners who can then make professional assessments on the condition of their dental hygiene.
Dentists are able to remotely provide prescriptions to patients in need of medication. Rather than sending the patient to their general practitioner, a teledentist can provide patients the correct prescription directly.
Teledentistry provides an incredibly cost-effective way to monitor dental treatments. Dentists can supervise and monitor the progress of patients’ dental hygiene remotely without any need to schedule regular monthly check-ins.
A 2018 study conducted by the American Dental Association found that 42% of Americans don't see a dentist as often as they would like . The same survey found that 85% of Americans believe that oral health is “very” or “extremely” important to their overall health, though only 25% reported being satisfied with the state of their dental hygiene. The very basis of teledentistry aims to reshape these percentages, increase accessibility, and encourage regular care.
Easier access for the elderly or infirm
Let’s take elderly people for example; the vast majority of the elderly population resides in care homes which means they are unable to travel to a dentist easily. Elderly people who are handicapped or dependent on others for transportation may struggle to schedule and attend regular dentist appointments. They can benefit from remote care without the worry of leaving the comfort of their homes or care facilities.
Less time away from work or other obligations
Because teledentistry can include virtual consultations and real-time monitoring of patients, it poses as a more affordable, more accessible, and more comfortable care option for patients who would otherwise put their dental hygiene on the back burner. In essence, teledentistry reflects a broader, evolving healthcare landscape that is quickly propelling toward futuristic innovation, integration, and convenient care.
How does 3D printing support teledentistry?
The power of 3D printing has reshaped the way we think about modern manufacturing and ideation. Within the blossoming world of teledentistry, 3D printing works in tandem with the development of the industry. In fact, 3D printing advancements directly impact the quality, cost, speed, and accuracy of teledentistry.
Dental 3D printers need to be precise in order to deliver flawless results. The most common technologies used today are stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP) depending on the application, one process may prove more suitable than the other. There are several different resins used in the production process (application pending), and many specialized resins are specifically designated for dental 3D printers.
Believe it or not, printing doesn’t have to take place in a high-tech off-site laboratory. Dentists can create 3D printed models within the comfort of their own offices, producing everything from surgical models to crowns in a matter of minutes.
HP and teledentistry
As one of the world’s leading pioneers in the future of printing, HP’s efforts toward creating highly efficient and top-performing 3D printing solutions have already manifested in teledentistry. During May 2019, HP and SmileDirectClub announced their partnership, shaking up the landscape of the orthodontics business. At Rapid 2019 3D printing conference, they revealed that the HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution would be used for the production of over 50,000 unique mouth molds .
SmileDirectClub plans to employ 49 HP Jet Fusion 3D printing systems operating 24 hours a day, with a working capacity to produce as many as 20 million individualized mouth molds over the course of the following 12 months. This groundbreaking partnership between HP and SmileDirectClub aims to democratize access to high-quality oral care and push modern boundaries set by traditional dentistry.
3D printing and teledentistry in the real world
1. Digital dentures
Today’s traditional denture manufacturing is an arduous and labor-intensive process that requires several follow-up patient visits and obligatory production steps. Unbeknownst to most, the production process is extremely complex and relies on small pool of qualified technicians and dental labs capable of accommodating the high demand.
3D printed dentures come to life with far fewer steps and minimized variability. This allows for a more fluid workflow and production job with more consistent results. And due to lower material costs and reduced labor need, patients can expect a significantly lower final cost for their digital dentures.
2. Digital dental implantology
Dental implants are artificial tooth roots that take the place of missing teeth and are the closest and most natural alternative to real teeth. Today’s dentists use cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT), virtual placement planning, and surgical guides to perform dental implant procedures. While these techniques are the most popular methods, the accuracy of implant placement during surgery is not guaranteed.
Based on the anatomical data collected from the patient’s x-ray scan, dentists depend on CAD software to generate a surgical guide. Traditionally, these guides come with heavy price tags, costing hundreds of dollars to create. By employing a 3D printer instead, practitioners can cut costs and increase efficiency in one fell swoop.
3. Removable Clear Aligners
Fortunately for teens of the future, the days of clunky, metal wired braces are quickly coming to an end. Removable clear aligners are becoming increasingly popular across the globe and prove to be a far more attractive alternative to traditional braces.
Clear aligners take form by means of a high-tech manufacturing process that requires an impression of a patient’s dental anatomy with a 3D intraoral scanner, and the resulting model is then used as a base for the teeth-straightening process The practitioner then creates a number of phases beginning at the current anatomical condition and ending at the desired positioning. Each stage is then thermoformed over 3D printed molds.
Only years ago, the 3D printers employed in this process were massive in size and difficult to operate, but have since become smaller format desktop 3D printers that accomplish the same high-quality job more efficiently.
A broken tooth requires a crown to restore the tooth back to its original shape and appearance. The traditional production process is both time-consuming and pricey, making the operation as a whole one of the more expensive fin dental work.
3D printed crowns eliminate the cons of the production process and make it far more feasible for both patients and practitioners. The doctor simply scans the broken tooth and uses digital software to generate a model of the crown. In less than 30 minutes, a dentist can create the appropriate 3D printed crown whereas old technology would require several weeks to create the correct mold. This will save practitioners and patients both time and money.
Benefits of teledentistry
As the teledentistry industry continues to develop and gain traction, there’s one lingering question that many will want to know. What exactly are the benefits of teledentistry? While the positives may differ on an individual basis, there are a number of universal positives that teledentistry aims to accomplish and capitalize on.
Benefit #1: High-quality care levels
One of the most significant challenges the dentistry industry faces is the sheer amount of hesitation and fear most patients feel when its time about that time to schedule a dentist appointment. Teledentistry aims to ease the tension and engage patients by allowing them to take care of their oral hygiene responsibilities from the comfort of their own homes.
Patients can anticipate the same level of care from their virtual dentist as they would from their in-person dentist.
Benefit #2: Increases affordability and accessibility
According to the American Telemedicine Association, visits to dental offices began declining in 2003 and have remained on a steady decline ever since . Research completed by the American Dental Association found that this decline is due to the rising costs and inability to easily access a local dentist.
The American Telemedicine Association also estimate that 20% of Americans live in rural areas where dentists and other medical professionals are not easily accessible. For those living away from local healthcare providers, telehealth provides a sound solution.
Being completely remote, teledentistry eliminates the need to travel for appointments and significantly reduces the cost of a consultation and the proper care. Thanks to the cost-effective innovation 3D printing promises, patients may no longer need to worry about exorbitant costs for proper oral care.
Benefit #3: Optimizes in-office efficiency
Teledentistry will effectively eliminate the need for patients to schedule in-person appointments for assessments that can be easily executed online and remotely. This efficiency upgrade will allow practitioners to spend more in-person time with patients who need oral work done and allow patients who simply need check-ups to save a trip to the dentist if all is well inside of their mouths.
Benefit #4: Ongoing growth
The telehealth industry is projected to increase with every passing year as its many benefits change the current state of traditional dentistry. There’s no time like the present to hop aboard the teledentistry train as the future shows brilliant promise.
The future of teledentistry: HP at work
According to Alex Fenkell, co-founder of SmileDirectClub, “HP’s breakthrough 3D printing and data intelligence platform makes this level of [teledentistry] disruption possible for us, pushing productivity, quality, and manufacturing predictability to unprecedented levels, all with economics that allows us to pass on savings to the consumers seeking treatment using our teledentistry platform .”
There are a number of large companies who have contributed into the shaping and development of dental 3D printing technology and teledentistry. As always with new, innovative technology, HP aims to create a smarter, more efficient digital future in as many industries our tech services can reach.
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About the Author: Tulie Finley-Moise is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Tulie is a digital content creation specialist based in San Diego, California with a passion for the latest tech and digital media news.