Community Care Reduces Dental Visits to the Emergency Room

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As low-income and other disadvantaged patients find limited access to dental care, many of them turn to their local emergency room (ER) for help when they can’t endure their poor oral health anymore. The rise in dental ER visits is increasing across the country, including rural Maryland, prompting officials there to expand a community dental access program—and the program is working.

Researchers reviewed data from a rural western Maryland community dental program’s claims database and claims data for dental-related visits to a regional ER. They also examined the association throughout time between visits to the community dental program and the ER for fiscal years 2011 to 2015.

According to the results, the community dental program served more than 1,600 unique clients across 2,700 visits during fiscal years 2011 to 2015, providing thousands of x-rays, extractions, and restorations to patients needing urgent dental care. The model suggested that if the program hadn’t provided these services, about 670 additional dental-related ER visits would have occurred, resulting in $215,000 more in costs.

The authors of the study noted that, as with medical care, many people who do not have insurance or the ability to pay out of pocket go to the ER with oral pain or infections because they don’t know where to go or how to access local dental resources. Offering an accessible alternative for urgent care, the researchers concluded, could divert these low-income and underinsured adults from using the ER for treatment.

The study, “Impact of a Community Dental Access Program on Emergency Dental Admissions in Rural Maryland,” was published by the American Journal of Public Health.

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