Across North America, tens of thousands of patients with dental emergencies will choose to visit a hospital emergency room rather than seek dental treatment this year.
And it could be costing these patients in a big way.
According to the Coshocton Tribune, the state of Ohio alone sees more than 84,000 patients each year who either don’t have dental insurance, can’t afford to visit a dentist or don’t have access to an emergency dentist, and who end up seeking ER treatment for their maladies. The trend is echoed across the United States, and as a result, Medicaid shells out millions each year to fund these ER visits.
In most, if not all instances, the doctors and physicians at hospital emergency rooms aren’t qualified or able to treat dental conditions like broken and chipped teeth, cavities, gum disease or dental abscesses.
“It’s essential for individuals who have a dental emergency to seek treatment from a dentist rather than an ER physician,” explains Dr. Charles Botbol, DDS at Studio B Dental in Toronto. “The physicians are not trained to handle dental emergencies and in most cases will simply tell the patient they need to see a dentist. This makes for a costly trip to the ER in which the patient receives little to no help with their problem.”
Contrary to widespread belief, it’s also much less expensive to visit an emergency dentist instead of an ER. The American Dental Association estimates that the average trip to the ER can cost a patient anywhere from $400 to $1,500. Seeking treatment from an emergency dentist, in contrast, costs just $40 to $200.
To help encourage people to seek the dental treatment they need, some dental experts are advocating for more widespread use of dental therapists, as many areas have a shortage of fully-certified dentists. Dental therapists don’t have as much education as an ordinary dentist, but they still work under a dentist’s supervision and can perform regular checkups and cleanings as well as fillings, the Coshocton Tribune reports. Currently, Maine is the only U.S. state that allows dental therapists to work with patients.
Have you ever had a dental emergency? What actions did you take to seek treatment for it? Share your experiences in the comments below.