Teledentistry: How the 2018 CDT Codes May Benefit Your Patients

DATE: Sep 22, 2017 
AUTHOR: Amber Metro-Sanchez

As technology becomes more and more a part of peoples' lives, the possibility of providing patient care remotely via video conferencing is soon going to become a reality. New Current Dental Terminology (CDT) codes are currently being developed by the American Dental Association (ADA), including treatment recommendations to be provided by an offsite dentist.

Read on to learn more about how these changes — that will become effective in 2018 — may benefit you and your patients.

How Does this Method of Treatment Work?

The Journal of International Society of Preventative & Community Dentistry defines teledentistry as "a combination of telecommunications and dentistry involving the exchange of clinical information and images over remote distances for dental consultation and treatment planning." With this type of care, a dentist does not have to be onsite. For instance, a dental hygienist who is onsite with the patient could provide preventive care and share the patient's information with a dentist through the use of technology.

Details on New CDT Codes

The ADA Code Maintenance Committee approved two teledentistry codes during its March 9, 2017 meeting at ADA Headquarters. The first code is defined as being a real-time encounter, also known as synchronous. The second code is defined as being asynchronous, meaning that information is stored and forwarded to a dentist for subsequent review.

Applications of New Dental Codes

Imagine a scenario where you could provide patient care and the dentist does not physically have to be there for a patient to receive a diagnosis and treatment recommendations. For example, perhaps you are providing care from a mobile unit in the parking lot of a school. Your patient is an 8-year-old who has never seen a dentist before. While examining the patient, you discover that she has an abscess above tooth B. At this point, you share the intraoral images and X-rays of the area with a dentist via video conferencing and receive treatment recommendations the same day. As a result, the child is referred out for further treatment.

In this situation, everyone wins! The young patient does not have to make several in-person trips to a dental office and can arrange for a visit to treat the abscessed tooth. The dental hygienist can attend to the patient without having to wait for a dentist to confirm her findings. Finally, the dentist does not have to feel stressed about being two places at once; he/she can attend to patients in the mobile clinic and go about his/her regular day at the office.

According to the American Dental Hygienists' Association, 40 states currently allow direct access, or the ability for a dental hygienist to initiate treatment based on her assessment of a patient's needs without a dentist present (provided the treatment is within the scope of practice for dental hygienists in that state). The new CDT codes could therefore readily be implemented in many states beginning in 2018.

Numerous Benefits of New CDT Codes

Teledentistry has the potential to bring desperately needed dental care to patients who might otherwise receive no treatment. By being able to provide treatment in schools, nursing homes and residential care facilities without the physical presence of a dentsit, barriers to care may be removed for under-served patients. Another benefit of this treatment method is that it will help to provide care to patients in rural areas. According to Dr. Paul Glassman, a California dentist who has specialized in teledentistry for the past six years, this system allows dental professionals to reach people who traditionally did not get dental care until they had advanced disease. When patients receive early preventive treatment and basic care, patients are able to keep their teeth healthy and costs are lowered overall.

Takeaways

  • Teledentistry allows patient care to be provided without a dentist physically being present.
  • New CDT codes may improve access to care for patients who have difficulty getting to a traditional dental office.
  • With this method of care, it is possible to focus on preventive care and early treatment to limit the occurrence of advanced dental conditions.

Why It's Important

The addition of these new CDT codes allows under-served patients to receive quality care by an offsite dentist and an onsite dental hygienist working as a team. As a result, a step to removing barriers to care can be overcome and more people may receive the dental care they need.