A new report by the Pew Center on the States estimates that preventable dental conditions were the primary diagnosis in 830,590 visits to emergency rooms nationwide in 2009.
In most cases, care delivered in the ER will not provide lasting relief. Instead, patients need dental care to effectively treat toothaches and dental abscesses. Without access to dental care, a high percentage of patients will make repeat visits to the ER.
The report provides clear evidence that a failure to provide dental care is incredibly expensive. One study shows that treating 330,000 decay-related cases in ERs costs nearly $110 million. This avoidable expense increases the financial burden on taxpayers, including those in states that are already facing budget major shortfalls.
In Washington, the problem is widespread and costly. According to the Washington State Hospital Association, in a recent 18-month period (Jan. 2008-June 2009) the cost of more than 54,000 dental-related visits to ERs exceeded $35 million. The costs are likely to have risen since the elimination of Medicaid dental coverage for many low-income adults in 2011. Pregnant women, people in long-term care and the developmentally disabled (DECOD) were exempted from these cuts.
Preventable trips to emergency rooms are an unnecessary expense that increases the cost of Medicaid and wastes taxpayer dollars. If people have access to dental care, much of this expensive ER care could be avoided. Preventive dental care and early treatment of dental problems saves money and improves overall health.