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Preventable dental issues land people in the ER: study

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Experts suggest community clinics to help people who may not have insurance

People with dental issues going to the ER is costing about $3 million, finds study

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If people had better access to health care, there would be fewer folks packing the room at local ERs, that’s the finding of a new study by UBC.

In a study published this week in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, the authors looked at the cost of emergency room visits for preventable dental problems specifically like tooth decay.

“We know from our friends in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, they are findings similar things that we did. Basically, people are going to the ER when, for example, they have a very basic toothache which the ER is not the place for that — it should be a dental office,” explains Mario Brondani, director of the dental public health program in the faculty of dentistry at UBC.

He adds when they looked at the extra cost to the taxpayer, it was surprising. “We did some analysis on that and we came up with a figure, but mind you they can sometimes be misinterpreted, but what we found was up to $3 million a year is spent on ERs for people going there for dental-related issues. We thought, ‘wow,’ and it might be nothing compared to the entire health care system, but it’s a lot of money.”

Another concern he points out is many doctors in the ER may not be properly equipped to deal with a supposed dental emergency. “They might be able to issue a diagnoses in terms of this is a tooth that is broken or an abscess, but beyond that — probably not.”

His suggested solution is emphasis needs to be put on community clinics or public programs offering basic dental care to those who need it. “Remember, people who are going to the ER are very likely not to have dental insurance. They’re probably the working poor or they don’t have dental insurance. So, public programs that target those folks would be a good start to solve the problem.”

Brondani thinks that money could be better spent elsewhere within the health care system.