More Americans Visiting Emergency Departments for Dental Care

May 22, 2013, 9:00 AM

A new research brief from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Resources Center finds that an increasing number of Americans visited emergency departments (ED) for dental-related care between 2000 and 2010, as a percentage of total dental visits. ED visits for dental care increased from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010.

The increase was primarily among young adults (age 21 to 34), which the researchers hypothesize is due to a decline in dental benefits among this age group. Young adults were more likely than others to report that they could not afford dental care in the past 12 months, the brief says, and recent studies have shown that there has been a shift in the pattern of dental benefits.

“Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) did little to address the issue of dental utilization in emergency departments,” the brief says. The law does not mandate dental benefits for adults, and insurance plans sold through most states’ exchanges are unlikely to include dental benefits. However, pilot programs in some states have shown promise for diverting patients with dental complaints from EDs and increasing their access to dental care.

“In the coming years, advocates for oral health will have to consider other innovative ways to increase access to dental care in order to decrease dental care utilization in hospital emergency departments,” the brief concludes. “Without further interventions from policy makers, dental ED visits are likely to increase in the future, straining our health care system and increasing overall health care costs. Now more than ever, innovative solutions are needed to improve access and oral health.”

Read the brief on patients visiting emergency departments for dental care.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.