Teledentistry has recently become a large part of the oral healthcare industry. This evolving service is touted for its ability to provide an extensive range of benefits to patients and dentists alike. It has seen a surge in adoption, with over 78% of patients planning to use teledentistry services in the coming years. Its benefits become even more pronounced in the area of caring for elderly patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Virtual dentistry for nursing home patients is a great way to ensure that these individuals are given the proper level of oral care they need, in the safest possible way.
Teledentistry for Senior Citizens and the Dangers of Poor Oral Care
Despite the fact that access to oral healthcare is a provision of the nursing home reform bill passed back in 1987, unfortunately, it remains an often overlooked aspect of overall health for senior citizens and those in nursing or extended-care homes. Issues such as periodontitis (gum disease) are common in the elderly, with an estimated 68% of those 65 or older suffering from gum disease. As alarming as these numbers are, this age group is also the least represented in dental visits. And yet, gum disease can lead to severe pain and tooth loss, which can significantly reduce a person's quality of life.
Even more troubling, there has been evidence to suggest a link between oral bacteria and pneumonia in the elderly. One study found that one in 10 deaths from pneumonia in elderly nursing home residents may be prevented by improving oral hygiene.
The dangers of poor oral health are real, and these dangers only increase with age. That’s why getting access to quality dental and oral healthcare is so imperative for this vulnerable population.
What Makes Teledentistry a Great Fit for Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities
While it's clear that oral healthcare is a necessity for those living in nursing homes, care providers still face many challenges. Getting elderly patients to see a dentist already can be difficult, with many patients’ mobility issues reducing transportation options. Other, more challenging medical issues may interfere and reduce appointment options. Fortunately, teledentistry care options have become more popular and offer a wide range of benefits for nursing homes and those in their care to receive proper dental care.
One significant benefit of teledentistry is the convenience it provides for patients. With teledentistry, a patient may be able to see a dentist and receive prescriptions virtually without leaving their room. Using teledentistry for prescribing medication can be a lifesaver for nursing home residents, reducing the need to make multiple trips to a dentist.
Teledentistry is also valued for its ability to help protect elderly patients from potential infections. Many who reside in nursing homes and long-term care facilities may be immunocompromised, and visiting a dentist's office may increase their health risk. These concerns are especially true during the flu season or a global pandemic. Accessing dental care without having to go out lessens the chance of infection for elderly patients and helps keep them safe without sacrificing their oral health.
Lastly, teledentistry has been shown to reduce costs for patients. For elderly patients on a fixed income, this can help them stretch their dollars further. Many insurance companies are also working on adding teledentistry services to what they cover. Lower dental costs are a big win for all patients and can be extra beneficial for elderly patients.
Is Teledentistry Safe for Nursing Home Patients?
One of the biggest concerns about any new technology, and teledentistry is no exception, is whether it's safe. Patients are often concerned about the level of care they will receive and that their sensitive medical data is kept private.
The good news is that a six-year study found that teledentistry offered "safe and effective care" comparable to that of an in-office visit. It also looked explicitly at nursing homes using this technology to help compile its results.
Also, many states have begun to write laws that are focused on teledentistry services. These laws aim to protect patients, both in terms of quality of care as well as patient privacy. As teledentistry becomes more popular, there are likely to be more laws written to ensure patient safety.
All that means that patients can rest assured that they are receiving quality care. Having a teledentistry appointment should be no less safe or of lesser quality than a traditional visit.
Teledentistry Benefits for Nursing Home Patients: Safe and Practical Solutions for Long-Term Care Facilities
With the benefits clear, it's easy to see why patients have fallen in love with teledentistry. In particular, nursing home patients stand to gain a lot by utilizing it as a service. With the ability to “meet” with a dentist from anywhere, teledentistry is an ideal way for seniors to receive the oral healthcare they so vitally need, in a way that addresses their mobility challenges, and ensures their safety.