A new report showed children aged 14 and younger are seeking dental care through emergency departments at alarming rates for preventable conditions such as abscesses and chronic gingivitis.
The CareQuest Institute for Oral Health report showed high costs and limited dental coverage contribute to the problem of high rates of pediatric emergency department use for dental care in Florida. Cultural and linguistic issues are also part of the problem, and the report found the use rate is higher among Black and Hispanic children.
High Rates of Emergency Rooms for Nontraumatic Dental Conditions
Looking at use rates per 10,000 people, 48.75 % are Black children, and 22.95 % are Hispanic children, compared with 19.6 % for white children.
Dr. Brandon R. Allen, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida and vice chair of clinical operations in the department of emergency medicine at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, recommended a proactive approach.
“These visits are preventable,” Allen contended. “With really good oral hygiene, a focus on the basics in regards to nutrition as well as brushing teeth, rinsing mouths, flossing and being preventive and proactive.”
Allen noted the need for access to preventive dental care, especially in rural areas, is crucial to address the oral health crisis in Florida. He also pointed to a need for collaborative efforts and data sharing between medical and dental health care systems to improve oral health equity and dental access in the state.
Children’s advocates said they will continue to urge state lawmakers in the fall to do more to solve access issues and ensure more preventive dental care to children in schools.
Allen emphasized while some may view the emergency room as a quick solution, it is important to recognize emergency room doctors are not dentists. The level of care they can provide may involve referring patients to a dentist for proper and definitive treatment of their dental issues.
“We assess for emergent conditions and try to manage the best we can with what we have with a working diagnosis,” Allen explained. “But we don’t do tooth extractions, we don’t do high complexity abscess drainage in these patients and so your visit may incur a wait to be seen as a potential lower acuity patient.”
According to America’s Children Campaign Florida hospitals billed nearly $550 million for treating nontraumatic dental conditions in 2021 alone.