Emergency rooms replace proper dental care

The current trend of Wisconsin residents using the emergency room for their dental needs is on the rise. Wisconsin residents are not alone. This trend is nationwide.

A recent report from Wisconsin Public Radio, quoting the Health Policy Institute, showed a nationwide trend of emergency room visits for dental care at a rate higher than emergency room growth overall.

In Wisconsin, the number of emergency department visits for non-traumatic dental complaints increased 20 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to the state's Department of Health Services' Healthiest Wisconsin 2020 Baseline and Health Disparities Report.

The numbers across the United States are also on the rise, according to various surveys.

What do these alarming statistics mean? Well for one thing, it means higher dentist bills for the patients. Emergency rooms charge much more than dentist offices.

The patients also receive less preventative care at the ER. Often the ER will only do "patchwork" type medical care rather than actually treating the cause of the problem. All this while costing more for the patient. Here is one such example from a Madison, WI man, according to Wisconsin Public Radio's report:

Joe Seals, a 44-year-old Madison man, was recently in the ER for a filling that fell out. The pain was so bad that he avoided chewing on one side of his mouth for a whole year.

"Nothin can get in (the other side)," said Seals. "As soon as something gets in there, it drives me nuts."

Seals said he was prescribed penicillin and pain pills — hydrocodone — in the ER, then was referred to a free clinic, the Madison Dental Initiative, for follow-up care.

Even more troubling is that many of the ER patients are young people. It becomes a habit that continues into young adulthood.

"It's younger people," said Paul Levine, a dentist in southeast Wisconsin and president of the Wisconsin Dental Association. "Older individuals generally have their dental home established. Younger people, that age group, seems to think they're invincible and won't have any problems."

Even young children with baby teeth can have severe tooth problems. Dentists and pediatricians now recommend that children see a dentist at age 1 instead of 3.

Dental care shouldn't be a luxury. Dental care is just as important as your visiting your eye doctor or general physician. Going to the ER is a bad solution for all involved, including taxpayers.