The number of children visiting the dentist has increased while dental care among adults has declined during the past decade, according to the Georgia Dental Association (GDA). The organization also notes that dental emergency room visits are on the rise.
In 2007, for instance, there were about 60,000 visits to Georgia emergency rooms for nontraumatic dental problems, or oral health issues not caused by injuries, costing more than $23 million.
The increase in emergency room visits isn’t because of a lack of capacity in Georgia dental offices, as most dentists in the state can accept more patients, the GDA reports. Instead, patients are afraid of the dentist, they can’t take time off work, or they can’t afford the cost, the group says.
“Many easily remedied dental conditions are ignored until the point that they become a more serious and expensive dental issue,” says Dr. Tom Broderick, president of the GDA. “Simple steps like brushing and flossing your teeth, eating a balanced diet, and seeing a dentist regularly can protect against tooth decay.”
“Pain from untreated dental decay results in lost school and work hours,” said GDA executive director Frank J. Capaldo. “When people are in severe pain, oftentimes they seek care in hospital emergency rooms, most of which are not well equipped to handle dental emergencies and where the cost of treatment is far greater than a dental office visit.”
Dental disease is almost entirely preventable, the GDA says. Left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss, bone or nerve damage, and infections that spread to other parts of the body, possibly with fatal results.
To encourage better oral care, Georgia state legislators appropriated $200,000 this year so more Medicaid dentists could practice in rural areas through a dental loan repayment program. GDA members also regularly volunteer in the state’s free and reduced cost dental clinics.
Earlier this summer, the GDA and its foundation hosted the Georgia Mission of Mercy dental clinic in Perry, Ga. More than 1,400 dentists and volunteers saw 2,000 patients from 80 counties in Georgia and provided $1.5 million of donated care.
Looking ahead, the GDA has launched its Action for Dental Health program to further improve oral care. Its goals include promoting quality attainable dental care for the uninsured and underserved in Georgia, promoting oral health education and literacy to mitigate potential barriers to a dental home, and optimizing the use and availability of publicly supported dental facilities.