Dental problems are being seen more often in the emergency room today because preventive checkups, usually for patients on Medicaid, are becoming less and less cost-effective for dentists. The trend, in turn, is draining resources from ERs and is giving patients fewer treatment options.
According to a recent Pew Center on the States study, ER visits for dental problems have increased 16% between 2006 and 2009 across the nation. Most of these visits include issues such as toothaches, which could have been avoided with preventive care. Unfortunately, dentists who accept Medicaid are in short supply -- particularly in rural areas.
The study analyzed hospital information in the 24 states with available ER figures, each of which exhibited similar results.
One major problem is that emergency rooms cannot perform true dental services. They can provide painkillers for cavities and antibiotics for resulting infections but not much more. The tab can run to $1000, as opposed to a routine cleaning, which is generally $50 to $100. Resulting infections may be dangerous, especially for children. In 2006, 200 children in Florida were hospitalized for infections after an emergency room dental visit. Return visits are also a substantial problem because emergency room visits do not address the root cause of dental issues.
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