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Community Health Center Dentists in Illinois Capital Treat ER Patients

July 24, 2015 

 

A hospital in Springfield, Ill., is referring people who show up at the emergency room with non-emergency dental issues to the dental clinic in a community health center, where they can receive more effective and less costly treatment.

Central Counties Health Centers is a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that provides dental services that include cleanings and exams, fillings, extractions and some other procedures. It currently employs two dentists and two dental hygienists.

The health center recently began accepting referrals from the St. John’s Hospital emergency department, where nearly 1,900 people sought treatment for dental issues since June 2014.

“It is unfortunate, but there is still a contingent of people living in Springfield who do not regularly visit the dentist and instead show up at the emergency room when they experience dental pain,” said Dr. Mary-Margaret Looker, dental director for the health center.

The issue isn’t unique to Springfield.

In 2012 alone, 2.18 million people throughout the United States turned to hospital ERs for relief from dental pain.  Many have not sought, or been able to access, regular preventive treatment until the pain becomes unbearable.

Yet most hospitals don’t have the facilities or staff to provide comprehensive dental care.  So many patients receive only antibiotics or pain medication, but the underlying dental problems are not addressed.  In too many cases, the patient returns to the emergency room with the same problem – or worse.

At St. John’s Hospital, staff will hand out referral cards with information about the health center to people who present with dental pain, according to Dr. Looker.

“We want them to be aware of our hours, and that we accept Medicaid patients,” she noted.

The referral program is still in its preliminary stages. Central Counties hopes to station a nurse at the hospital to schedule referrals.

“But in the meantime, our hope is that if these people are at the emergency room during our clinic hours, they can call and come over for treatment,” said Dr. Looker. “Otherwise, they can schedule an appointment the following day.”

Dentists throughout the country are participating in programs that aim to get people out of the emergency room and into the dental chair. The emergency room referral model is one of eight initiatives comprising the American Dental Association’s Action for Dental Health, which delivers care to those already suffering from untreated dental disease, strengthens the dental safety net, and brings oral health education and disease prevention into communities.