During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in the use of teledentistry, a strategy that improved access to oral health services despite full or partial closure of dental practices. Teledentistry was successfully utilized for triage, consultation, diagnosis, referral, follow-up, and health education, reducing the number of in-person visits.
A recent report by the Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) at the University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) explored the use of teledentistry by safety-net organizations which include Federally Qualified Heath Centers (FQHCs), to bridge access to care during the pandemic.
Even though teledentistry services are widely accepted by providers and patients alike, the most significant barrier preventing the adoption and expansion of teledentistry services is the variability around teledentistry authorization and regulation. While some states have specific laws and regulations in support of teledentistry, others don’t. This variability in regulation of teledentistry by states often limits the ability of safety-net clinicians to provide virtual oral health care.
OHWRC researchers conducted interviews of safety-net oral health providers and administrators, who described their experiences using teledentistry services. The majority of key informants expressed interest in continuing to provide services via teledentistry beyond the pandemic. However, barriers to expansion of teledentistry were identified, including lack of Medicaid reimbursement, which is key for populations primarily served by safety-net organizations. Researchers found that after the expiration of the Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023, only 14 states offer Medicaid reimbursement for teledentistry services. Another barrier to the use of teledentistry services is state restrictions on who is authorized to deliver teledentistry services. In some states teledentistry is limited to dentists only, limiting access to dental services that could be delivered by other oral health providers, including dental hygienists.
As part of their study, researchers assessed state laws, regulations, and policies related to teledentistry in the 51 regulatory jurisdictions of the US to compile a state-by-state comparison of the barriers to and facilitators of the use of teledentistry. An interactive infographic was developed to illustrate current regulatory guidance for teledentistry by each state in the US.
“Teledentistry proved itself during the pandemic—we learned that it expanded access to care,” says CHWS Director Jean Moore. “Moving forward, we need to identify ways to reduce the variability in teledentistry regulation and authorization to enable its use and to improve access to quality dental services in the future.”
To view the report, visit the CHWS website at http://www.chwsny.org.
For more information about the Oral Health Workforce Research Center, visit www.oralhealthworkforce.org.
About the CHWS
Established in 1996, CHWS is an academic research organization, based at the School of Public Health, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY). The mission of CHWS is to provide timely, accurate data and conduct policy relevant research about the health workforce. The research conducted by CHWS supports and promotes health workforce planning and policymaking at local, regional, state, and national levels. Today, CHWS is a national leader in the field of health workforce studies, and the only HRSA-sponsored center with a unique focus on the oral health workforce.