That wave of anxiety that hits as you walk into the dentist’s office is becoming a thing of the past as more and more practices have begun offering virtual care options. And it is giving patients, as well as dentists, something to smile about.
Like the rest of the health care industry, the pandemic prompted many dentists to embrace technology as patients were reluctant to seek care in-person. As a result, providers and patients alike were able to see firsthand the value of teledentistry across a range of use, cases and settings, such as consultation, diagnosis, imaging and communication, according to Brant Herman, chief executive officer and co-founder of MouthWatch LLC, a Metuchen-based startup at the forefront of developing technologies to improve dental health experiences.
“Providers could finally meet their patient’s demand for convenience, efficiency, and innovation in the delivery of their health care … For patients, teledentistry puts dental care at their fingertips. Virtual access to a dental provider is a just click away with the freedom to schedule a virtual visit from anywhere at a time that’s right for the patient. Plus, patients can rely on teledentistry to help them navigate to in-person care when needed while saving them valuable time,” said Herman.
He continued: “For providers, driving practice growth by increasing efficiency and offering an enhanced patient experience is paramount to their practice success. Especially now when they are managing through challenges such as staffing shortages and a more competitive marketplace.
“Teledentistry also helps providers reserve their chair time for hands-on, higher revenue procedures, while keeping patients engaged through consultative care, and the delivery of health information and education,” Herman added.
Launched in 2012 by Herman, along with Chief Operating Officer Bob Bellhouse and practicing dentist and Brant’s father, Jerry Herman, MouthWatch has become a leader in innovative teledentistry solutions, digital case presentation tools and intraoral imaging devices.
The company is best known for its two award-winning, highly rated products: the MouthWatch intraoral camera, which is currently used in more than 40,000 dental practices, and TeleDent, an all-in-one teledentistry solution that streamlines collaboration between patients, dentists, hygienists, specialists and other health care providers across a range of settings.
After being introduced in 2016, TeleDent “is widely recognized as the leading teledentistry platform on the market,” Brant Herman said.
Since then, MouthWatch has added features designed “to improve the dentistry experience for patient and provider alike, such as real-time and recorded teleconferencing capabilities, encryption, cloud enabled sharing and storage of digital X-rays, videos, and patient records in additional to digital photos,” according to Herman.
“While we never planned for a pandemic to help further the adoption of teledentistry, we were well positioned to address the needs of providers and patients during a very challenging time. With dental offices closed for all but emergency services, we upped the ante to let dentists know that we could help them keep their patients and their staffs while maintaining contact and ensuring nobody fell through the cracks,” he continued.
“Our experience and reputation made us leading experts on how to handle virtual care and support your patients and practice during those challenging times,” he explained. “We grew significantly and educated dentists around the globe on how to handle a pandemic through the implementation of telehealth.”
As the coronavirus crisis subsided and practices reopened, MouthWatch “kept revealing value to offices who saw all the ways that teledentistry could help their business and support their patients,” Herman said.
“Plus, the reimbursement and policy changes from the pandemic continued to remain in place, making it easy for programs to reveal amazing value for implementing virtual care,” he added.
Pre-pandemic, TeleDent was in use at around 300 care touchpoints – which MouthWatch defines as locations where patients can interact with providers – including dental practices and some medical sites and had about 750 providers in its system. Now, it has more than 1,700 care touchpoints and 3,500 providers, according to Herman.
“Office interaction that can be easily transitioned to virtual consultations include first time visits, documenting medical history, treatment plan presentation, post-implant surgery monitoring, oral health coaching, payment plan discussions, and specialist referral introductions,” Herman said. “This conversion from in-office to virtual conversation can boost a dentist’s bottom line. For example, one of our clients with nearly 100 locations shifted 7% of its appointments to virtual in 2022, allowing them to see more patients and generate additional revenue,” he said.
A newly released analysis found that, within the last year, 90% of Americans used telehealth services to get regular checkups with primary care, monitoring a chronic condition and tracking recovery from an illness. Of the 1,000 respondents to Independa Inc.’s survey, the majority said they enjoyed the experience, citing factors such as comfort and convenience, saving travel time and faster service than waiting for an in-person appointment.
A study by CareQuest Institute for Oral Health found that three-quarters of patients who had a virtual dental visit for diagnostic or restorative services followed up within three weeks with an office visit for care, which, researchers said, demonstrated that teledentistry can be used to successfully communicate with patients, triage their needs and plan in-person visits more efficiently.
Over the past year, the global teledentistry market grew by over 16% to an estimated $1.45 billion. And, within the next decade, it’s expected to reach a market value of $6.56 billion.
Its growth can be attributed to several factors, including the increasing need to reduce dental care costs, wide adoption of mobile health in dental practices and more awareness of platforms.
Teledentistry can also help reduce the fear and anxiety that some patients feel around care providers. “For many individuals, a trip to the dentist means battling fear. Stepping through the front doors of a dental office requires all the strength and courage they can muster. I have had patients openly weep while in the waiting room. The ‘white coat syndrome’ is a real phenomenon: patients who experience fear and anxiety around care providers. The dental office atmosphere can bring back traumatic memories and the fear associated with them,” Jamie Collins, a dental hygienist, shared in a MouthWatch blog.
Using intraoral cameras and teledentistry allows for face-to-face interaction during evaluations and consultations, all while the patient is in the comfort of their own home, which may make it easier to build rapport prior to a procedure, therefore making it less stressful for them, she said.
“Fear of the dentist often impacts the patient’s ability to remember key parts of a conversation with the provider. Or it means questions they have don’t get asked. I’ve witnessed a patient many times leave the office only to call back with a multitude of questions. Via the TeleDent Patient Portal, the office can send the evaluation results to a patient, along with a visual treatment plan with images. The treatment plan and finding can be discussed with a patient and/or decision maker, face to face,” Collins said.
During its first decade, MouthWatch earned numerous industry accolades, as well as recognition from business publications such Technology Innovators Magazine and Inc. Magazine. In December 2022, NJBIZ named MouthWatch as its New Jersey Business of the Year in the 1-50 employee category.
Herman’s vision for the next 10 years is to enhance and create dental software and devices that will make dentistry more efficient, accessible, and better integrated with physicians and other allied health care providers.
“We have already begun this mission as we prepare for the launch of our newest solution called Dentistry.One. This virtual first dental care solution will provide patients with 24/7 access to a national network of dentists along with Care Advisors who make accessing dental care as easy as possible. Our Care Advisors will be a single point of contact for patients, helping to book appointments, explain dental insurance benefits, offer product recommendations and support patient health goals through oral health coaching. We’ll integrate directly with medical systems to help patients improve their health and outcomes for chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, or helping pregnant mothers have healthier babies through better oral health care,” he said. “There are so many conditions that improve when dental care is available, and we are here to make sure we make accessing that care as easy and convenient as possible.”
As for challenges, Herman said the biggest hurdle is “oftentimes the lack of patient and provider understanding” of the value of modern technology.
“There are also some states who have some restrictions on how teledentistry can be implemented and the role that hygienists can play,” he explained. “That’s why MouthWatch team is committed to working hard to accelerate provider and patient and state regulator awareness of the many benefits of teledentistry.”n