Using a computer tablet and a “wand” (an intraoral camera), OneWorld clinicians at Liberty Elementary, Indian Hill Elementary, Spring Lake Magnet Elementary and Bryan High are now able to video call pediatric dental residents at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha and Lincoln. Using a secure wireless internet connection, School-Based Health Center staff members can live chat face-to-face with residents on the tablets and simultaneously use the wand to show the residents a student’s teeth. This practice is called “teledentistry.”
“You put the wand above the teeth and it focuses,” Sarah Miller, APRN, director of medical services and School-Based Health Centers, said. “If there’s anything crazy with the teeth, the residents can see it.”
The teledentistry program is the result of our partnership with Building Healthy Futures, the pediatric residency program at UNMC and OneWorld’s dental program. The technology equipment was made available through a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant as an opportunity to promote inter-professional partnerships in reaching underserved populations. When UNMC staff wanted to try four teledentistry units, Miller jumped at the chance to implement them in OneWorld’s School-Based Health Centers.
“My staff was excited, because the goal with teledentistry is to minimize the division between someone who can come see a dentist but they don’t have to do anything surgically versus someone going to the dentist and having them say, ‘Hey, you should go see a dental surgeon,’” Miller said. “For me, it’s a difference of three appointments compared to two. When you
have money and transportation barriers, and dental care is really expensive, I’m picking two appointments over three.”
Staff members at the clinics trained with students they identified as having a high need for dental care. During this 3-week training period, 25 high-need students were able to receive video consultations. Those who were identified with dental needs received notes from the School-Based Health Center with suggestions of places to receive appropriate treatment. One student was even able to receive dental surgery two days after a teledentistry session due to the realization that care was urgently needed.
“It’s an ‘in’ for those kids who otherwise wouldn’t get dental care,” Miller said. “Because the program uses UNMC pediatric dental residents who practice at Children’s Hospital, they are able to take our most serious cases needing surgical care, and families don’t have to fear getting the bill. Whether it’s a slow payment plan, or they say ‘you pay 40 percent,’ they’ll work it out.”
With the teledentistry program, the residents and School-Based Health Center staff members work to find ways to overcome barriers that prevent children from receiving dental care. The ultimate goal of the program is to connect underserved children and their families with a dental home.