Teledentistry for Dentures
The meteoric rise of teledentistry during the COVID-19 pandemic may have left laboratories wondering: How do we capitalize on this? Restorative dental treatment typically requires the patient to be in the dental chair for at least the initial visit and the delivery of restorations. But what if impressions could be taken remotely and dentures could be shipped directly to the patient?
Justin Marks, CDT, considered that exact question for his laboratory in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which is devoted entirely to 3D printing flexible partial dentures.
"The business model has been proven out in other aspects of dentistry, especially in orthodontics, and telehealth as a whole grew wildly during the pandemic," Marks says. "When we were contacted by a leading teledentistry firm, Dentulu, to explore a new model for removable prosthetics, we were excited by the possibility."
Marks has since worked on a pilot program with Dentulu, with an official launch expected soon. Dentulu has dentists licensed in all 50 states, and they handle initial consultations and screenings to determine which patients are potential candidates for 3D printed partials. Patients then can either use at-home impression kits that Marks' laboratory co-developed with Dentulu, or visit a scanning location for impressions. The laboratory then designs a denture and sends the digital file to the prescribing dentist for review and approval. The prosthetic is sent directly to the patient, and if adjustments are necessary, then they can visit a dentist in the Dentulu network, but Marks says most cases so far have not required that.
"Like we would with any dentist, we do need to screen some of the at-home impressions," Marks says. "On the whole, however, we have been impressed with what we have seen."
The dentist remains involved in all parts of the process, and Marks makes it very clear that he has no intentions of changing that.
"We do not like using the phrase ‘direct-to-consumer,' because cutting out the dentist is not something we believe in," Marks says. "We are working with dentists, just through nontraditional means. We are fully cognizant of the large numbers of people who are missing teeth, and traditional business models with patients visiting dentists who use commercial dental laboratories are not satisfying the demand that exists. Cost is not the only factor; accessibility, fear of the dentist, and excessive chair time can also be hindrances. We are trying to use digital workflows to cut down on those."
One direct-to-consumer element will be a marketing campaign once the service officially launches, to supplement the referrals. Marks says this will address a disconnect that he has recognized for many years in the laboratory profession.
"In the past, if I talk to someone about my product and they are unfamiliar with dental laboratories, the first question is always: ‘OK, how do I get it?'" Marks says. "The sell was easy; getting the product to the consumer was hard because they had to go through so many channels. Now, we have proven that we can feasibly ship a printed prosthetic to a patient. We are trying to improve upon it and perfect it as we go. The demand is there; it is just a matter of ironing out the kinks."
Can other laboratories follow this path? Absolutely, Marks says.
"It depends on which dentists and manufacturers they have networked with, and who will be the innovative leaders in this industry," he says. "Teledentistry does not need to be on a massive scale. A laboratory can contract any or all of their dentists to create their own service. Many dentists already set up teledentistry systems during the COVID-19 shutdown, so if laboratories can figure out a way to use technology or other means to get prosthetics to those patients through their own dentist network, then there is a lot of opportunity in that space."