Everyone knows that millions of dollars and hundreds of hours are wasted in hospital emergency rooms for minor or major unfixable issues. What a lot of lay people aren’t aware of, though, is that millions of those wasted dollars are specifically on people with dental pain. In addition to hospitals being overburdened by dental patients that they can’t treat, they often send ailing patients off with a narcotics prescription for the pain.Then, the onus is on the patient to be conservative with their pain medication and, in the meantime, find an adequate dentist on their own to get lasting relief.
This surprising reliance on narcotics to help with dental issues is a trend that’s been rising within the last couple of decades. Over the last 20 years, many people have been prescribed narcotics as a short-term fix for dental issues in emergency rooms. More recently, the FDA has started cracking down on frivolous narcotics prescriptions, which adds a layer of complication to this cycle.
Maria Kunstadter, DDS, has created a solution to these issues: The Dentist Is In, the first telemedicine dental office.As Dr. Kunstadter explained during a recent Health Innovation Team meeting, The Dentist Is In is a 24/7 teledental kiosk, located in a hospital emergency room, that allows patients with dental problems to circumvent the costly and unnecessary visit to the ER. Instead, The Dentist Is In helps triage the patient and set up a dental appointment for that patient within 24-48 hours.
Kunstadter knows that the short wait for an office visit is one of the most crucial pieces to this equation. Many patients slip through the 4-6 week waiting gap for an office visit, and never end up seeing a dentist. Instead, they keep going back for more painkillers.
The Dentist Is In not only works quickly with patients and has a dentist on call 24/7 for triage and consultation, but they also take all of the patient’s relevant information to get them to clinics that are quick and affordable. Many cheaper, quicker solutions are available for these patients, but the medical world is confusing and they often don’t know that the services exist. And, let’s be honest—it’s not always easy to research and identify options when you’re dealing with debilitating pain or discomfort.
The Dentist Is In is a for-profit company. Clinics, hospitals and facilities pay a subscription fee to use the teledental kiosks, which are currently operating in three health care clinics. As telehealth expands, Dr. Kunstadter hopes that teledental will, too.
“I kept telling telemedicine companies that you can’t call yourself telehealth unless you include oral health,” she said. “That was my mantra.”
By putting oral health at the forefront of general medical treatment, Dr. Kunstadter hopes that The Dentist Is In will reduce healthcare costs by 12 percent. According to a Gallup poll, about one third of adults in the U.S. didn’t visit a dentist in 2014, and according to the American Dental Association, dental-related ER visits accounted for almost 2 percent of all emergency room visits in 2013. Dr. Kunstadter has lofty goals to not only remedy that lack of care, but do it quickly.