A growing number of U.S. residents are seeking routine dental care at the emergency room, according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States, Washington.
The majority of these emergency room visits were for untreated dental issues that could have been avoided with regular checkups, the study said. Many of the issues went untreated because of an overall shortage of dentists and more specifically, those willing to treat Medicaid patients
, according to Pew researchers.
The total number of ER visits related to dental problems increased 16 percent between 2006 and 2009, a trend that is likely to continue, the report said.
Many ER dental visits are return trips, because emergency rooms
are not usually staffed by dentists and can only offer pain relief and medicine for infections. Many patients who can’t afford proper follow-up treatment return to the emergency room instead, researchers said.
"If people are showing up in the ER for dental care, then we've got big holes
in the delivery of care,” said Shelly Gehshan, director of Pew's children's dental campaign. “It's just like pouring money down a hole. It's the wrong service, in the wrong setting, at the wrong time."