Dental patients crowd emergency departments

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The lack of dental coverage for under- and uninsured patients has hospital emergency departments (ED) seeing toothaches, tooth abscesses and other dental emergencies, USA Today reported.

Between 1.3 percent and 2.7 percent of all ER visits (that don't result in a hospital admission) nationwide are dental emergencies, according to a 2010 Health Resources and Services Administration report.

Although that number might seem like only a small percentage, Alan Sorkey, a Louisiana emergency physician, pointed out that he treated 226 of the 6,336 patients for toothaches last year.

Ten states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington) do not offer Medicaid dental benefits to adults, and coverage of outpatient dentist office treatment for those problems varies significantly from state to state, the article noted.

"What this does is funnel everyone to the ER, which is the most expensive place to get healthcare," Sorkey said.

Some communities are responding to the lack of insurance by offering free dental services. For example, Deerhaven Family Dentistry in Michigan recently held a one-day free dental clinic that had patients from around the region flocking to the clinic, according to the Interlochen Public Radio. Similarly, Prescott (Arizonia) Dental Center today offered dental work at no cost to patients on a first-come, first-served basis, such as one filling, cleaning or extraction per patient, according to The Daily Courier.

Under health reform, the Affordable Care Act addresses dental care for children on Medicaid, although not for adults, USA Today noted.

For more information:
- read the USA Today article
- listen to the IPR report
- here's the Daily Courier article

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