Quality dental and orthodontic care is out of reach for many Californians, leaving legislators, advocacy groups, and the public searching for solutions to make them more affordable and accessible.
Enter: technology. With the advent of telehealth – and teledentistry in particular – the ability to access affordable, quality dental and orthodontic care is finally possible for millions of Californians, and consumers are embracing it. More than 100,000 Californians and countless more across the U.S. have already taken advantage of clear-aligner therapy to straighten their teeth at a fraction of the cost of in-office treatment and without the need for unnecessary in-person appointments.
Teledentistry’s accessibility and affordable services are doing wonders for the livelihoods of Californians who were once unable to see a dentist or orthodontist, whether due to location or financial reasons. The deeply-rooted and well-connected traditional dental industry, however, does not want the competition – even though it could improve access to dental care in underserved areas and make routine checkups and fillings more affordable.
There has been a broad cross-country movement by the entrenched dental industry to stifle this innovation in order to ensure brick and mortar dentists and orthodontists do not lose their stranglehold on the market for orthodontic care – the same stranglehold that has made these services unreasonably expensive and inaccessible to many. The issue has become so problematic that the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice were forced to step in to defend teledentistry, arguing that innovation provides consumers with more access to products and services at affordable prices.
The attempts to put barriers between consumers and this innovation was recently on display in our state with the passage of a California “sunset bill” for the reauthorization of the Dental Board of California, which was set to expire. This bill, Assembly Bill (AB) 1519, underwent last minute changes – adding anticompetitive language that is strongly supported by the California Dental Association. The supporters of this new language knew the Governor had no choice but to sign AB 1519 into law or leave California without a dental board.
The new language in the bill arbitrarily stunts innovation in teledentistry by calling for dentists to review bone imaging before any orthodontic procedure – no matter how minor. AB 1519 overrides evidenced-based clinical studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the American Dental Association guidelines, and could expose patients to unnecessary radiation or other testing as a result. This decision should be left to the discretion of the treating health care provider, who is responsible for standard-of-care decisions in all aspects of treatment.
The tactic of inserting last-minute amendments into this must-pass bill was a deliberate move, surely because these anticompetitive requirements could not withstand public scrutiny or clinical evidence. Now, hundreds of thousands of Californians may have yet another barrier to affordable and accessible dental care.
California prides itself as the birthplace of innovation. We cannot allow arbitrary barriers to impede Californians’ access to safe, affordable, and high-quality dental care. Instead of obstructing the choices technology brings to consumers, we should be working together to get more Californians smiling – and allow teledentistry to continue to innovate in our state.