A Growing Trend: Americans Visit the Emergency Room for Dental Care

dental pain

If you have a toothache or oral health concern, how do you resolve the problem? Traditionally most Americans go to their family dentist for dental issues, but a recent report indicates increasing numbers are heading to hospital emergency rooms (ER) for dental problems.

The study, distributed in February 2012 by the Pew Center on the States, showed a 16 percent increase from 2006 to 2009 of Americans going to the ER for toothaches and other avoidable dental problems. And hospitals report this trend has continued over the past three years. The report also indicated that the majority of these individuals did not have dental insurance because of cuts in employer insurance benefits or Medicaid coverage and limited finances due to the sluggish economy. Unfortunately, the cost for ER care for dental problems is 10 times the price of preventive care.

Most hospital ERs lack treatment options and appropriate equipment to assist patients with dental problems. Often, all they can do is minimize the pain temporarily with medication. Still, many patients do not seek proper preventive dental care and return to the ER for more serious medical problems, such as a painfully infected tooth or gum abscess (which is full of unhealthy bacteria that can make them sick).

Millions of Americans do not have dental insurance and do not schedule preventive care dental appointments. But many insurance companies offer affordable options with individual dental care plans, which primarily focus on prevention. In addition, dental benefits are available as employer-paid or voluntary options for small- to large-size businesses.

The bottom line is that individuals can avoid serious oral health problems by:

  • brushing and flossing teeth daily
  • eating a healthy diet that emphasizes the consumption of vegetables, fruits and lean meats
  • limiting the intake of sugary foods and drinks

For more information on the impact of ER visits on health care costs, read our blog post on Lowering Medical Costs. Or read An American Dental Crisis.