The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of ordinary life, from work to education to entertainment. Among the most significant effects, however, may be on the practice of healthcare, including dentistry. The transition to telemedicine has required dental practices to adapt to new technologies and potentially unprecedented remote care practices.
However, it is not only the practice of dentistry that has been changed by the transition to remote life. The oral health habits of our patients have also been affected, in ways that are both positive and negative.
This article examples the largely unanticipated impacts of our newly remote world on oral health.
The Virtual Visit
Perhaps the first and most obvious impact of this newly remote culture is simply the reality that, for many of us, hands-on dental care simply may not be an option. This is particularly true when it comes to treating patients in high-risk groups, those who may be unable or unwilling to leave their homes and risk exposure to the virus.
To be sure, some procedures simply cannot be performed virtually, but basic checkups and routine oral health screenings are not among them. Indeed, teledentistry is an ideal strategy for ensuring continuity of care for your patients, not only during pandemic times but even into the post-pandemic world that seems to lie just on the horizon.
Remote screenings and consultations can ensure more effective treatment for patients who may have difficulty keeping in-person appointments, especially when frequent monitoring is required, as with orthodontic care.
In addition, telehealth visits can support the quality and efficiency of in-office patient care. Dentists and dental assistants will be able to triage patients remotely, which helps to support scheduling efficacy. For example, care providers will be able to assess with far greater scope of the problem and the estimated time to treat it when scheduling in-office visits. That will reduce patient wait times and prevent overcrowded waiting rooms.
An important aspect of building your teledentistry operations, however, will be in helping patients to recognize that remote care is not simply a stopgap measure to evade the virus. Rather, enabling patients to recognize the benefits of remote consultation will allow both you and them to reap the rewards of convenience, accessibility, and efficiency that telehealth provides.
Though there are significant benefits to the practice of teledentistry, the transition to remote life has not always been positive. Life in the digital realm can easily lead to a significantly skewed perception of reality.
Recent studies have shown, for example, that the predominance of the Zoom meeting in our daily lives has given rise to significant mental health challenges in substantial segments of the population. Among the most prevalent of these issues is what psychologists have termed Zoom Dysmorphia, a disorder characterized by a highly distorted (and negative) physical self-image triggered by disproportionate amounts of time spent viewing oneself on video calls.
Zoom Dysmorphia is a form of Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) and, like those who experience BDD, patients with Zoom Dysmorphia may fixate on perceived flaws. Often, a person with BDD will relentlessly pursue one unnecessary intervention after another to “correct” a flaw that does not actually exist or is far less significant than the patient perceives it to be.
Though you might think of BDD as affecting the patient’s perception of their face and bodies only, such dysmorphia can and does affect patients’ perception of their teeth and gums. This is especially true of Zoom Dysmorphia because this form of BDD derives from long hours of seeing one’s face projected on the video screen. Patients may fixate on their facial features, especially on their mouths and teeth, driving them to insist on unnecessary and sometimes aggressive “corrective” procedures.
Unfortunately, however, patients’ desire for a beautiful smile does not have to devolve into a dysmorphic disorder to incite them to potentially harmful behaviors. For example, patients may turn to hacks they’ve read about online to whiten their teeth, such as the use of deactivated charcoal as a bleaching agent. Dentists are even seeing an alarming trend among their teenage patients of filing down their teeth or adding rhinestones and homemade grills based on videos they’ve seen online.
And that means that now more than ever, providing quality dental care in the wake of COVID will mean not only capitalizing on the benefits of teledentistry but also on reversing the potential harms that remote life may have inflicted on your patients, from Zoom Dysmorphia to ill-advised cosmetic treatments performed at home.
The practice of dentistry has changed significantly since the transition to remote life. Teledentistry has introduced new opportunities for optimizing patient care, while excessive amounts of time spent online may have had a detrimental effect on patients, from the emergence of Zoom Dysmorphia to the introduction of potentially harmful trends and practices.
About the Author
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.