There are a growing number of people visiting the emergency room for long overdue dental care. According to Federal data reported by the American Dental Association, emergency room visits for dental related problems increased from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012 (ADA, N.D.). Emergency room doctors stated that unendurable pain is what typically sends patients to the emergency room. Unfortunately, the majority of these patients do not have dental insurance. In fact, almost two thirds of seniors and over a third of adults in the U.S. reported not having dental coverage in 2012 (Unger, 2015). The Affordable Care Act was supposed to fill the gaps for Americans lacking health insurance, but dental coverage under these plans is limited to children. Neither ACA plans nor most Medicare plans currently offer embedded dental coverage.
Dental emergency room visits average $749 if no hospitalization is required (Unger, 2015). Aside from having little-to-no dental insurance, dentists report that a significant portion of the population ignores dental problems until they are unbearable. Often, severe dental pain occurs outside of normal business hours, which forces people to visit the emergency room. The emergency room physicians are able to treat dental issues with temporary care such as antibiotics and pain medication, but are typically unable to identify and treat the cause of the problem, resulting in the pain returning when the palliative treatment wears off.
Below you’ll find a summary of two stories told about people who suffered debilitating pain and infection due to untreated dental issues that could have been completely avoided with regular dental treatment.
- Christopher Smith found himself in the emergency room after losing a filling. He reported that his tooth began to hurt after the filling came out. Christopher tried to fix the problem with a pain reliever and a kit from the drug store to patch the hole. The temporary filling fell out less than 24 hours later, and his jaw began to swell. He drove himself to the emergency room at 4 a.m., where he was referred to a dentist in the area. The dentist saw how bad the infection in his jaw had become and sent him back to the emergency room where they removed his tooth, gave him antibiotics, and sent him home. Then, the infection from his mouth drained into his neck, and he began to have trouble breathing, forcing him once again to visit the ER. While in the waiting room, Christopher’s throat became so swollen that it closed completely. He was admitted to the hospital, had his neck cut to drain the infection, was administered strong antibiotics, and kept in the hospital for a week. The simple filling could have been replaced for $200, but because Christopher lacked dental insurance, the medical bill exceeded $10,000 and nearly cost Christopher his life.
- In 2007, Deamonte Driver had a toothache. He was previously on Medicaid but was dropped from the program because his paperwork was sent to a homeless shelter where his family briefly lived. His toothache was due to an infection that caused him to become ill. Demonte was taken to the hospital for a headache that wouldn’t subside, but his illness became worse. The infection had traveled to his brain, causing him to need two brain surgeries. Less than a month later, Deamonte died at the age of twelve.
Your mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, but brushing and flossing daily can keep those bacteria under control. Regular preventive dental visits can help prevent serious infection that could become life threatening. Most dental plans include two covered cleanings per year that allow a dentist to examine any potential issues before they become major problems. If you don’t have dental insurance, visiting a dentist annually for a cleaning and a check-up costs roughly between $100 - $200, but could save you a trip to the emergency room, time away from work, and in extreme cases, your life.
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American Dental Association. (n.d.). From the Emergency Room to the Dental Chair. Retrieved from www.ada.org: http://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/action-for-dental-health/er-referral
Gavett, G. (2012, June 26). Tragic Results When Dental Care Is Out Of Reach. Retrieved from www.pbs.org: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/tragic-results-when-dental-care-is-out-of-reach/
Ungar, L. (2015, June 29). ER Visits For Dental Problems on the Rise. Retrieved from www.usatoday.com: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/29/er-dental-visits/29492599/
Filed under: Prevention