Study: Lack of dental care access leads to surplus of preventable ED visits, inefficient resource use

Visits related to a preventable dental condition make up 1.5 to 2.5 percent of all emergency department visits in the U.S., costing taxpayers, hospitals and the government about $2 billion per year, a new study from College Station-based Texas A&M University reveals.

The study, published Oct. 1 in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, reviewed more than 60 other studies to better understand the determinants that lead to emergency department visits for preventable dental conditions. Its results suggest that lawmakers and healthcare providers should create initiatives that increase dental care access, as many patients who visit the emergency department with a preventable dental condition lack dental insurance coverage or have insufficient dental coverage under Medicaid.

"Dental diseases such as tooth decay and gum disease are preventable through adequate personal oral hygiene practices and periodic professional care," Marvellous Akinlotan, PhD, who co-wrote the study, said in an Oct. 15 news release. "However, these diseases, if left untreated, do not resolve spontaneously. They progress over time, resulting in dental pain and infection, and may necessitate an emergency department visit."

Treatments for patients who visit the emergency department with a preventable dental condition often do not go beyond the dispensing of antibiotics or painkillers, which Dr. Akinlotan pointed out "do not address the patient's underlying dental condition, and are an inefficient use of time and health care resources."

Dr. Akinlotan also pointed out that interventions to expand dental care access should be geared toward young adults, children with special needs, those with chronic conditions and patients with low socioeconomic status, as these populations are most likely to visit the emergency department for preventable dental conditions.

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