August 10, 2016
Bringing “virtual dental homes” to schools, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities can keep people healthy, according to a six-year study released by the University of the Pacific (Stockton, CA).
A virtual dental home is a community-based oral health care delivery system that uses telehealth technology to link specially trained dental hygienists already in the community with dentists in dental offices and clinics.
Pacific developed the teledentistry system and has evaluated it in more than 3000 patients across California since 2010. More than $5.5 million in federal, state, and other grants supported the demonstration project.
Findings of the six-year report found no adverse outcomes for any procedures performed by hygienists. In addition, approximately two-thirds of children and about half of seniors and people with disabilities in long-term care facilities can have their oral health needs met by dental hygienists in the community, without the need to see a dentist in person.
Utilizing Dental Hygienists to Improve Health Outcomes in Long-Term Care
Examining Oral Health in Nursing Home Residents and Overcoming Mouth Care–Resistive Behaviors
In addition, the study found that the virtual dental home system delivers significantly more prevention and early intervention at less cost-per-patient than the current Denti-Cal system. Financial projections based on the demonstration project experience indicate the system could be financially viable in the Denti-Cal system.
The approach was developed by Pacific Center director Paul Glassman, DDS, MA, MBA, a professor of dentistry at University of the Pacific, who collaborated with a broad range of stakeholders to leverage advances in dentistry and telehealth, create training programs for dentists and hygienists, and win policy and other changes needed to pilot and evaluate the system.
“Our six-year demonstration project confirms that this is a safe, effective way to bring care to people who need it,” Dr Glassman said. “Basing a virtual dental home in a school, a nursing home or other community setting allows dental hygienists to prevent or treat the majority of oral health problems on site, and also brings prevention information to patients, families and caregivers. Finally, it connects on-site care in the community to dentists in dental offices.” —Amanda Del Signore