By DrBicuspid Staff

July 2, 2013 -- Patients are going to emergency rooms (ERs) in record numbers for dental treatment, which is straining the U.S. healthcare system and increasing healthcare costs, according to research conducted by the ADA Health Policy Resources Center (HPRC).

The number of dental ER visits in the U.S. jumped from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, HPRC found. The research also cited an independent 2009 study by the National Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) showing that 41.8% of all ER visits for dental conditions were the result of dental caries.

While ERs can provide pain relief and treat infection, few hospitals have dentists on staff and are able to provide comprehensive dental care, HPRC noted. In most cases, ER staff members provide patients with prescriptions for pain or antibiotics for infection, which ease short-term symptoms without solving the long-term underlying dental problem.

According to the HPRC analysis, young adults with inadequate dental coverage are driving the surge in dental ER visits. During the past decade, decreases in private dental insurance coverage, combined with significant reductions in adult dental Medicaid programs have hit young adults particularly hard. During that time, the share of young adults (21 to 34 years) with a dental visit who sought treatment through an ER doubled from 1.5% to 3%, far higher than any other age group.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act does little to address the issue of the rising numbers of ER dental visits, the HPRC analysis concluded, because it does not mandate dental benefits for adults.

HPRC is calling on policymakers to consider other ways to improve access to dental care for adults, including innovative programs currently underway across the U.S. aimed at diverting dental patients from ERs to community health centers or private dental practices where they can receive proper, long-term care.


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