A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Dental Coverage Critical to Decreasing ER Visits

Dental Coverage Critical to Decreasing ER Visits

April 3, 2009

A recent report on data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) found that people without dental coverage were significantly more likely to use the emergency department (ED) for preventable dental conditions such as untreated cavities, dental abscesses, and periodontal disease. Click here for the full report (.pdf).

Among the findings:

  • People without private insurance are at least seven times more likely to visit the ED, controlling for other demographic characteristics
  • People living in rural areas are more likely to visit the ED.
  • Statewide, the ED visit rate, without hospitalization, for preventable dental conditions runs higher than that for diabetes.

    The report highlights what we already know about dental disease: that lack of access to oral health services has a significant impact on overall health. Poor oral health can lead to dental decay and has been associated with increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, all of which lead to costly visits to the ER. Dental decay can also affect individuals’ ability to speak, eat, and succeed in work and school. Fortunately, dental decay is almost entirely preventable when people have access to simple services such as screenings, dental sealants and fluoride treatment.

    In California, these effects are demonstrated by the 80,000 visits a year for preventable dental conditions. Left untreated, cavities and other routine dental problems can develop into serious infections that require immediate treatment, exacting a high cost both on patients and the health care system.

    Advocates in Massachusetts are working hard to make people aware of these issues and to increase access to care in order to eliminate the health risks. To learn more about our statewide public awareness campaign, please visit www.WatchYourMouth.org or contact Czarina Biton at biton@hcfama.org or 617.275.2838.

    For more information about current legislation and advocacy, please visit the Oral Health Advocacy Taskforce online at www.hcfama.org/oralhealth/taskforce or contact Jaime Corliss at jcorliss@hcfama.org or 617.275.2801.

    - Christine Keeves