ERs seeing increase of people visiting with dental problems

More people are heading to the emergency room with dental problems, an increase largely driven by young adults who don’t have dental benefits, according to the ADA Health Policy Resources Center.

The number of dental emergency room visits in the U.S. increased from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010, according to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The survey also showed dental ER visits as a percent of total ER visits increasing from 1.06 percent in 2000 to 1.65 percent in 2010—a change HPRC cites as statistically significant.

HPRC cited the survey in a research brief titled “Dental-Related Emergency Department Visits on the Increase in the United States.” Lead authors Thomas Wall and Kamyar Nasseh, Ph.D., analyzed dental utilization data and looked at how different age groups approached their dental care.

“The deterioration in private and public dental benefits coverage for adults has clearly created significant financial barriers to dental care—especially among young adults,” Mr. Wall said.

“Our results strongly suggest that the increase in financial barriers to dental care for younger adults could have led to a substitution of dental ER visits for dental office visits.”

More people taking their dental issues to the emergency room, rather than a dental office, creates a strain on the health care system and one that the Affordable Care Act cannot support, HPRC said.

“[Emergency rooms] nationwide are under pressure to provide care for more patients,” Mr. Wall wrote in the research brief. “Inappropriate and continuous use of EDs for nontraumatic dental visits strain the health care system, contribute to overcrowding, increased care costs and longer wait times for patients with urgent health conditions.”

Based on various estimates on the average cost of a dental ED visit, it cost the health care system anywhere from $867 million to $2.1 billion to treat dental conditions in hospital emergency rooms in 2010, according to HPRC. Previous studies have shown that patients who take their dental issues to the emergency room are more likely to be young or middle-aged adults and more likely to have Medicaid or no health insurance, HPRC says. In previous research briefs, HPRC has reported that the percent of adults between the ages of 19 and 49 with private dental benefits declined from 2000-2010.