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Democrats, Republicans push for teledentistry to be legal in Texas

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - Teledentistry, the practice of consulting with dentists virtually, is not currently legal in Texas, but some state lawmakers hope to change that this legislative session.

“If I’m a general dentist and I know, right away, I need to send you to an oral surgeon because that’s probably something that you’ll do better there, then that kind of skips a visit for you,” Dr. Aaron Glick, DDS, an assistant professor of dental public health at UTHealth School of Dentistry in Houston, told KWTX.

Another dentist, Dr. Matt Roberts, told KWTX that teledentistry could also alleviate pressure on emergency rooms since many people go there for tooth pains.

“We want to try to keep patients out of emergency rooms and especially during the pandemic, that was the number one goal that was stated by most of the health professionals in the state,” said Roberts, who is also the chair of the Texas Dental Association’s Council on Legislative, Regulatory and Governmental Affairs.

The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners determined last year that teledentistry is illegal under current law.

“The board put out a statement saying that, as part of dentists’ examinations, it was required for us to have a tactile examination, which means that we have to be in the presence of the patient,” Glick said.

In February, the board was sued in Travis County District Court over its decision.

Meanwhile, state Reps. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, and Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, filed bills that would legalize the practice and lay the groundwork for insurance reimbursement.

Guerra’s bill includes a requirement that a patient could only see a dentist virtually for 12 months before having to go back in for a physical check up while Klick’s bill in its current form does not.

Roberts said the physical check up component is important.

“Pictures don’t tell the whole story; you got to have hands on for most of this” he said.

A similar teledentistry bill died last legislative session.

However, advocates hope that the relative popularity that telemedicine has enjoyed during the pandemic will boost the popularity of teledentistry and push one of these bills to the finish line this legislative session.

Advocates also point to teledentistry’s ability to provide more access to care, especially in nursing homes where residents might not have regular interactions with dentists and rural areas where there could be fewer dentists.

Both bills were heard last week in the House Public Health Committee, where they currently remain.

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