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Letters: ER dental visits

September 02, 2013

I am writing in response to "ERs Seeing Increase of People Visiting with Dental Problems" (July 15 ADA News).

The article implies that the increase in ER dental visits is due to dentists collectively not doing enough to provide care for the young and/or poor to prevent the issues that lead them to seek care in hospital ERs. The article says that financial barriers are one of the reasons why dental ER visits are up. The article also calls for innovations to increase access to care and calls for intervention from policymakers to stem the tide of dental ER visits.

Financial barriers? Maybe, but it appears to me that the most significant barriers to dental care are lack of value placed on oral health and lack of personal responsibility.

In my area, most of the dentists take a week or two each year to be the ER on-call dentist.

The on-call dentist sees patients referred by the two local hospital ERs and treats them regardless of their ability to pay. Following instructions at the ER to contact the on-call dentist for follow-up care, half or more of the ER patients never bother to call my office to make an appointment.

Access to care? Maybe, but the last couple of times my local dental society organized Give Kids a Smile programs, we had more dentists, hygienists and dental assistants participate than kids. Medicaid patients receive excellent care in my office with no out-of-pocket-expense. Why is it that so many don't value their appointments enough to show up?

I think it is important to remember that most dental disease is preventable by using a toothbrush and avoiding frequent exposures to sweetened drinks and snacks. By and large, dental decay is a lifestyle disease.

Yes, it is sad to see people in dental pain, but it is important to remember that dental decay is preventable and that preventive dental care is not very expensive relative to some of the other things people manage to afford.

Ronald Jarvis, D.D.S.
Kalispell, Mont.