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Texas Dentists Help Relieve Local ER Burden

May 14, 2014

Adults without health coverage in Crockett, Texas, no longer have to rely on the local hospital’s emergency room to treat their dental problems. That’s because dentists there have a way to get people out of the emergency room and into a dentist’s chair.

Local physicians, along with the East Texas Medical Center Hospital Emergency Department, refer about 200 patients each year to the C.O. Murray Clinic, where four dentists alternate taking care of the community’s underserved adults every third Monday, according to Dr. Matt Roberts, one of the attending dentists who serves on the American Dental Association’s Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations.

“This clinic is a true community effort,” said Dr. Roberts. “I appreciate how all of the dentists in our community have rallied and contributed to the cause.”

Emergency rooms throughout the country are inundated by patients seeking treatment for dental pain, and most hospitals are underequipped and not sufficiently staffed to provide comprehensive dental care. Many patients are only prescribed antibiotics to treat the infections, as well as pain medication, but the underlying dental problem is not addressed, causing the problem to worsen and the patient to return to the emergency room.

In Crockett, there are two ways in which people with such problems are referred to the C.O. Murray Clinic.

Emergency room medical personnel refer people to the clinic after prescribing antibiotics and pain medication, if needed. Another referral source is the non-profit organization Houston County Share Inc., which is part of the East Texas Food Bank, according to Dr. Roberts.  

When the clinic opens at 5:30 p.m., the dentist triages patients and determines who needs immediate attention. Patients who have less urgent needs are prescribed antibiotics or pain medication, if needed, and return three weeks later for treatment.

The dental part of the clinic, which is also staffed by primary care physicians, opened in 2009, and is primarily funded by First United Methodist Church, Crockett, which also provides the building, maintenance, utility costs and building upkeep.  Other local businesses also provide financial support, and the volunteer dentists help provide equipment and supplies.

Henry Schein, a medical company distributor and longtime partner in the American Dental Association’s Give Kids a Smile program, has generously donated equipment and service to the clinic, according to Dr. Roberts.

The clinic also helps relieve the financial burden of the Houston County Hospital District, which is responsible for paying a portion of emergency room visits that are considered “indigent care,” said Dr. Roberts.

“A significant portion of local emergency room visits are dentally related, so by servicing this number of people in need, the clinic is helping the district save money,” he noted.