One of the newest trends when it comes to dental health is the increasing number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms for emergency dental problems. According to data from the American Dental Association, ER visits doubled from about 1.1 million in 2000 to over 2.2 million in 2012. This boils down to about one ER visit for a dental problem every 15 seconds, and the problem does not seem to be getting any better with the recent healthcare reform.
For many of these ER visits, dental pain is what sends people to the hospital. In some cases, this may be a cavity that has been untreated for so long that it worsens to the point of unbearable pain. When the patient cannot take it anymore – and over the counter pain killers just aren’t cutting it anymore – they head to the emergency room for relief.
One of the biggest culprits in this trend is limited health insurance coverage. About 85% of dental visits to the ER are made by people who either don’t have insurance or are on plans like Medicaid. Government insurance plans generally have very limited dental coverage, but by law, hospital emergency rooms need to see patients even if they do not have the ability to pay for the services.
ER physicians are not equipped to treat dental problems in the same way that a dentist would be able to treat them. For the most part, they can only prescribe antibiotics or pain killers, and these visits tend to cost more than three times more than a patient would be charged for a routine dental visit. With an average cost of about $750, if hospitalization is not required, these fees are adding up to cost the U.S. healthcare system over $1.6 billion per year. It is clear that more needs to be done to get people dental coverage to avoid these trends in the future.