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Your Smile On Camera: WNC Dental Program Turns To Teledentistry During Coronavirus Pandemic

MAHEC dental resident Dr. Matt Wolfe & fellow resident Dr. Morgan Stroud practice their teledentistry skills.

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted some dentists to break into the new frontier of teledentistry – including  the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC).  BPR’s Helen Chickering caught up with a MAHEC dental resident as the program was just getting underway. 

Before coronavirus, MAHECdental resident Dr. Matt Wolfe’s  tele-entistry experience was  -  on the casual side.

“You know, I've had family members and friends FaceTime me and show me - or try to show me what's going on in their mouth because they've had pain,  something falls out or something breaks.”

But all that changed with the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-March, the American Dental Association recommended practices restrict patients to emergency cases.

Natalie Raper is MAHEC’S dental practice administrator.  

“You know, a lot of patients right now don't want to come into the clinic even if they are in pain,"  says Raper.  So we give that as an option.  If they want to talk to the dentist on-call first via teledentistry before we choose or decide if it is necessary for the patient to actually come in.”  

Raper says MAHEC created a telemedicine platform.   The dental residents got a quick course and were off and running in no time.

“Hello, I'm Dr. Wolfe, thanks for coming into teledentistry today.”

That’s the sound of Dr. Wolfe going through a practice run with fellow MAHEC resident Dr. Morgan Stroud.  He’s set up in a private office with a computer where he video chats with patients on their computer or smart phone. The telemedicine appointment includes an interview about symptoms and a visual exam.

“So, I’m  going to have you look to your right, come into the camera a little bit."  

There have been some speedbumps – choppy internet connection issues for patients in rural areas and there is a learning curve. 

“So the closest thing I could kind of relate this to when my parents first got FaceTime on either their iPad or their phone," says Wolfe.  "I'd say, ‘See like that little screen where you see your face. That's what I see. So, if I'm just seeing your forehead, you guys need to move back a little so I can see everything.’ “

Despite the challenges, at a time when social distancing is key to helping slow the spread of coronavirus, teledentistry is proving to be an important screening tool and one this dental resident says he’ll carry with him when he opens his own practice.   

I’m Helen Chickering, BPR News.

Some dental offices are starting to reopen to non-emergency patients.  MAHEC Dental Health Center will reopen on Tuesday, May 19.   Natalie Raper says Monday will be spent re-training staff on PPE donning and doffing, sterilization techniques, standard precautions, etc.   In addition, the clinic is lengthening the times of all appointments (both hygiene and dental) by at least 30 minutes to ensure for adequate time for sterilization, wiping, air flow, etc.  Special instructions have been sent to patients.   

MAHEC students are also helping with the statewide shortage of PPE's, Helen Chickering talks to dental and medical students who joined forces to tranform a crown-making 3-D computer to make nasal swabs. 


Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
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