20 March 2023

A global taskforce of academic experts has concluded that teledentistry has the ability to give millions more people around the world regular access to dental services. 

Brought together by the Oral Health Foundation and Unilever, the group found that teledentistry has the potential to remove or reduce many of the major barriers associated with access to oral healthcare, specifically in developing and emerging countries. 

The panel determined that teledentistry can be an effective method for education, dental referrals, early detection of disease, treatment planning and compliance, and treatment viability.  

Teledentistry was deemed especially useful where the access to dental professionals is limited or not evenly spread over a country or region.  It was also seen as a cost-saving measure for the patient and the dental clinic. 

According to Dr Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, there is an urgent need to expand access to dental care, and believes teledentistry has an important role to play. 

Dr Carter says: “There is a critical need to bridge the gap between the underserved population and dental care professionals. 

“Despite the links between oral health and general health being widely recognised, oral diseases remain far too common.  A preventive approach to oral health remains the best option, and dental professionals remain the best people to deliver specific educational messages. 

“Frustratingly, access to dental services around the world remains unbalanced.  Many people across rural and remote areas, from low socio-economic groups and those with physical and mental disabilities, have reduced opportunities to access dental care.   

“Teledentistry may be in its infancy but clearly has incredible potential to increase dental access for hard-to-reach groups.  Teledentistry can maximise the resources of a limited workforce and provide important educational and diagnostic services at a lower cost.” 

Currently, around 2.4 billion people across the world do not have the means to access dental care.  

While investigating the main barriers to dental access, a low number of qualified dentists in developing nations was listed as a substantial problem.  In many countries, most dentists reside in larger cities, leaving rural and geographically-isolated patients without care. 

A lack of dental access was also found to impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups while financial barriers and fear of the dentist also came high in the list of difficulties for seeing dental professionals. 

The analysis revealed significant opportunities for evidence-based oral health advice that can be delivered by implementing specific teledentistry models.   

The benefits of teledentistry as a solution to overcome barriers to oral healthcare can be summarised by:  

  • Improved access to a specialised workforce: Preventive messages, early intervention procedures, recording of oral health status, and selection of patients in terms of urgency for in-person treatment can be performed by trained personnel in health centres or even at home in remote areas.  

  • Address oral health inequalities: Several teledentistry models have been shown to impact the oral health of specific population groups that find it difficult to access existing dental centres or practices.  Teledentistry will be part of future dentistry, especially in countries where inequalities are a big problem.   

  • Reduce financial constraints: Recent teledentistry models have shown that this form of provision can reduce not only travel costs but often limit the number of appointments with a dental practice further reducing the costs.   

To tackle many thof e barriers associated with dental access, Pepsodent has launched a teledentistry initiative across Indonesia and Vietnam. 

The project aims to reduce oral diseases amongst the most vulnerable people by making dental access more inclusive, readily available, and financially affordable. 

Kartik Chandrasekhar, category head for oral care at Unilever, says: “At Pepsodent, our mission is simple – to improve lives by making quality oral healthcare accessible to everyone.  We know that access to oral healthcare can be a challenge for many, which is why we're excited about our teledentistry initiative.  Through this program, we've already reached over 100 million consumers in Indonesia and Vietnam, breaking down barriers to access and preventing oral disease. 

“Teledentistry has the potential to revolutionise the way people receive oral healthcare.  With the support of the Oral Health Foundation and Unilever, we're committed to scaling this initiative and bringing affordable oral care to underserved populations all over the world.  That's why we're passionate about partnering with dental associations around the globe to make this a reality.” 

The taskforce included representatives from nine countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Tunisia, Ghana, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia.  

The group investigated the major global barriers to accessing dental care and reviewed the most recent publications on teledentistry projects.  The panel then suggested possible outcomes as well as practical implications of delivering teledentistry services around the world. 

Click here to access the full opinion paper.