Utah Emergency Departments Face 56,000 Dental Visits in a Decade

Dentistry Today


Between 2007 and 2017, there were nearly 56,000 admissions to Utah hospital emergency departments (EDs) for dental care related to nontraumatic and preventable diagnoses, resulting in charges of nearly $52 million, according to a report from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Oral Health Program.

Since EDs are ill equipped to handle comprehensive dental services, most of these patients are simply treated for pain and/or infection rather than the cause of the dental complaint, the UDOH reported. Due to the availability of quality care and the likelihood of continuity of care, patients who present at an ED for a nontraumatic dental condition would be better served in a dental office, the UDOH said. 

“Oral health is a major public health problem because of its impact on individuals and communities as a result of pain and suffering. Good oral health is critical to overall health and well-being,” said Dr. Kim Michelsen, state dental director at UDOH. 

Poor oral health is associated with increased use of healthcare services and increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, the UDOH noted, adding that oral health also can affect time at work and school. 

Of the 55,239 admission to Utah EDs for dental care, 48.4% occurred after regular business hours, such as between 6 pm and 7 am. Most admissions (50.6%) were the result of an abscess at the tip of the root, which occur secondary  to dental cavities and periodontitis, all of which are preventable. Abscesses can lead to sepsis, hemorrhage, and even death.

Many of the excessive costs of ED-related oral health visits are preventable with routine dental care, the UDOH said. Also, efforts to increase dental coverage and care may have significant positive effects on the physical and mental well-being of many individuals.

Evidence-based policy changes and programs associated with improved dental health outcomes and expanded care to vulnerable populations could impact or be adapted to address unmet dental issues in Utah, the UDOH said, including: 

  • Increased after-hours and urgent care dental clinics
  • Integration of oral health into well-child visits, as children are more likely to see a pediatrician or family doctor before they see a dentist
  • Increased areas with community water fluoridation
  • Implementation of teledentistry to provide preventive and restorative care to populations lacking access to dental care by professionals practicing at the top of the scope of their licenses

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