Creepy Cavities Invade American Emergency Rooms

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May 17, 2017 by Harry Stoll

Perhaps some of you may recall me mentioning, a few months ago in an unrelated blog, my fear of going to the dentist.  Some of my aversion is pain-related from a bad childhood experience. The other part is a fear of what it might cost.  Like most things in life, dental care costs money, and sometimes, depending on what’s wrong—lots of money. To go or not to go is a complicated conundrum for many of us.  But did you know you can  actually die from a tooth infection?  This is why emergency room doctors and dentists around the country are sounding an alarm.  There are way too many preventable ER visits related to dental decay and infections.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who “postpone” their dental care to the point where millions have ended up in emergency rooms in hospitals across America.   In fact, according to the American Dental Association’s most recent data, ER visits for dental-related issues have doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012.  And if that’s not enough, according to, more than 4,000,000 patients visited hospital emergency rooms for dental care between 2008 and 2010, resulting in a cost of $2.7 billion.  Had these procedures been done in a dental office instead of the ER, the costs would have been a third of this figure.

Research shows 85% of ER visits for dental problems were made by people who lacked dental insurance or had Medicaid.  Medicaid recently expanded coverage to many lower income adults.  However, the expansion did not include an increase of providers. ER visits were probably an easier option to those seeking dental care rather than increased travel or longer waits.  Also, for some Medicaid patients, the ER is their usual go-to place for healthcare.  So, when their tooth is throbbing, it makes sense for them to visit the ER.

George Acs, DDS, director of the dental department at Chesapeake Health Care in Salisbury, MD said people with oral pain and infections are inundating hospitals.  He testified before the Maryland State Congress in 2016, “More than 2,000,000 emergency room visits were attributed to neglected teeth last year”.  He reiterated, “Although those hospital visits in America cost an estimated $1.6 billion a year, the ER is not equipped to fix dental problems.”  Too often, the patient is given antibiotics and pain medicine. Then told to make an appointment with a dentist.

So, here’s the takeaway; postponing dental care is a lose-lose proposition, especially if doing so lands you in a hospital. Not only will you likely be in more pain due to neglecting care, the treatment will cost 3 times more in an ER than it would at your dentist’s office. Plus, in many cases, the ER will not even be able to correct your dental issue—costing you even more money for follow up care.  Remember one of healthcare’s cardinal rules, because in this case it sings truer than ever: preventive care is far more cost-effective than reactive options.

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