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Bridging America’s Dental Divide One Community At a Time

Feb 14, 2014

More than 2.1 million people visited emergency rooms (ER’s) for dental pain in 2010, nearly double the number from a decade earlier, according to a National Hospital Ambulatory Medicare Care Survey.

Eighty percent of the visits were for largely preventable issues like cavities and abscesses, according to a separate study. The majority of those visits were by adults making less than $30,000 annually.

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As previously reported in Dental Wire, this trend of using ER’s for dental treatment is on the rise. Many attribute the use of ER’s by low-income people to a limping economy and continued confusion about the Affordable Care Act. For example, the American Dental Association (ADA) reports that 40% of adults making under $30,000 a year believe that health care reform will help them obtain dental care.

An ADA commissioned poll by Harris Interactive Survey April 24-29, 2013 reported that 48% of low-income Americans making under $30,000 a year haven’t seen a dentist in more than a year, and 20% of those haven’t visited a dentist in more than 5 years. A separate finding by the ADA’s Health Policy Resources Center reported that 181 million Americans didn’t visit the dentist at all in 2010.

According to the Harris survey, 18% of low-income Americans reported that they or a household member had sought treatment in an ER for dental pain at some point, and only 6% of them shared that their problem was solved in the ER.

Fortunately the ADA is helping sponsor a grassroots effort called Action for Dental Health: Dentists Making a Difference to confront the issue in communities nationwide. The intent of the volunteer effort is intended to address this dental divide in 3 specific areas:

  • Provide immediate care to people suffering now by referring them to community health centers or private dental practices, expand access to care for nursing home elderly and increase programs like “Give Kids a Smile” and “Missions of Mercy” that allow dentists to deliver care directly to those needing it.
  • Strengthen and expand the public/private safety net by having private practice dentists contract with Federally Qualified Health Centers and lobby for increased dental health protections and less paperwork under Medicaid.
  • Promote disease prevention and dental health education by ensuring more Americans have access to fluoridated drinking water, increase the number of Community Dental Health Coordinators and improve collaborations with other health professionals and organizations.

A recent CNN report shared some early successes, including the partnering of a Michigan hospital system with a local non-profit healthcare facility.  The program refers patients suffering with dental pain to local dentists and since the program began, dental cases in the ER have dropped by 70%.

A long-term goal of the Action for Dental Health effort is to integrate ER referral programs in all 50 states by 2020. Since oral health prevention is seen as the key in bridging the current dental divide, the group believes by joining together locally and nationally it can eliminate the practice of thousands visiting ER’s for routine dental problems.

Sources: CNN,,

Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC

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