With Few Other Options, More Low-Income Patients Visit ER for Dental Care

More and more people are turning to hospital emergency rooms for routine dental care. That’s according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States, which found that it’s difficult for low-income patients to regularly access preventative dental care. The researchers also found a shortage of dentists who treat Medicaid patients, which is a problem that some low-income D.C. residents have noted, as well.

FRONTLINE reports that in down economic times, going to the dentist “may take a back seat to other economic needs.”

Between 2006 and 2009, the number of ER visits for dental problems rose by 16 percent, a trend the study suggests is continuing. And because ERs are often not staffed by dentists, nearly 20 percent of all ER dental trips are return patients whose problems persisted.

“If people are showing up in the ER for dental care, then we’ve got big holes in the delivery of care,” Shelly Gehshan, the director of Pew’s children’s dental campaign, told the Associated Press. “It’s the wrong service, in the wrong setting, at the wrong time.”

It is also expensive: A routine teeth cleaning that could prevent future dental problems can cost up to $100, as compared to $1,000 for ER treatment for untreated cavities and infections.

Read more at: www.pbs.org