Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More Prevention, Less Emergency

By Dr. Doyle Williams

I’ve been reading way too many articles about the increasing use of the hospital emergency room (ER) for treating dental problems. Hospitals are saying that this has become a very frequent occurrence. It saddens me to know people are in such mouth pain that they need ER intervention. It is troubling to me as a dentist because when an individual visits the hospital with a dental emergency, the pain will be addressed, but the “root” cause of the problem is often not treated. The most common treatment is a prescription for pain and another for infection; both are just temporary fixes. This leaves the individual vulnerable to a recurrence of the same problem in a few weeks or perhaps more severe problems, which ultimately become more costly and painful to treat. And in some cases, they can be life threatening.
The number of ER visits across the U.S. increased by 16 percent from 2006 to 2009. Did you know that between 1.3 percent and 2.7 percent of all ER visits that don't result in a hospital admission are dental emergencies? In many cases, the people using the emergency room have had difficulty getting regular preventive care from dentists and other types of providers says The Pew Research Center in its report, A Costly Destination. Unfortunately, the patients who find themselves in the ER are paying more than they would have at a dentist, and not solving their underlying oral health problem.

Consider that a single ER visit for toothache pain can cost Medicaid about $236, while extracting an infected tooth in a dentist’soffice or placing a filling would cost about $107. Recognizing this trend, the National Institutes of Health is supporting a new two-year study of emergency room dental care.

We need to take a closer look at where money is spent on dental care. Paying for prevention-focused dental care is a more effective wayto keep costs down. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth apound of cure.”

DentaQuest is committed to prevention in oral healthcare. Click here to learn more