Teledentistry combines the use of telecommunications and dentistry, while mobile health (mHealth) utilizes mobile phones and other wireless technologies as a way to communicate health promotion. Teledentitry has been proposed as an effective and efficient way to reach rural communities. The current pandemic also highlighted its benefits as patients were reluctant to come into the office and while offices were closed. Teledentistry can provide remote screening, caries detection, diagnosis, consultation, treatment planning, and monitoring. However, what about promoting prevention? A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2021 in the Journal of Dental Research aimed to “determine the effect of teledentistry on oral health promotion and prevention, as compared with other conventional strategies, when used in patients of any age.”1
There were 19 studies included in the systematic review. Upon assessment of risk of bias, it was determined that all the included studies had a high risk of bias related to blinding of study participants. Other areas were determined to have a low risk of bias or unclear risk of bias. Eighteen studies were randomized controlled trials and one was quasi-randomized trial.
This systematic review found evidence to support the use of digital and virtual technologies for the prevention and promotion of oral health. There was a statistically significant reduction in plaque index, gingival index and white spot lesions by using messages and apps for education. Using messages and apps can reduce in-person clinic time and reinforce concepts beyond the clinical encounter.
Previous studies have determined “verbal hygiene instructions without reinforcement by written or visual information results in low retention” (Thomson et al. 2001; Ahn et al. 2019). When comparing apps and messaging one tool was not superior to the other, making either technology a great tool for oral health promotion and prevention. It is important to note these results were observed in adolescents and young adults, with little information to determine how successful this method would be in the elderly population.
The authors note several limitations such as the exclusion of older adults and the elderly, outcomes related to behavior modification was limited making it impossible to meta-analyze anything more than plaque index, gingival index, and white spot lesions.
The authors conclude by stating, “Low to moderate certainty evidence, mainly from asynchronous and non-personalized education in young populations, suggest that teledentistry (messages or apps) may result in a significant reduction in dental biofilm stagnation, gingival inflammation, and white spot lesions when compared with regular in-person strategies. Due to the observed treatment effects, telematic strategies appear to have the potential to become a useful tool for preventing and promoting oral health.”
Does your office currently utilize teledentistry or mHealth? Have you seen an improvement in patient’s oral health since you have implemented this tool?
- Fernández CE, Maturana CA, Coloma SI, Carrasco-Labra A, Giacaman RA. Teledentistry and mHealth for Promotion and Prevention of Oral Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Dent Res. 2021 Mar 26:220345211003828. doi: 10.1177/00220345211003828. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33769123.