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Action for Dental Health

Emergency Department Referrals

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Why We Need Emergency Department Referrals

Reduce the number of people who visit the emergency room for dental conditions (PDF), by referring them to community health centers or private dental practices, where they can receive proper dental care. People suffering from dental pain need somewhere to turn for help. Frequently the place they turn is the emergency room of their local hospital. According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, the number of dental ER visits in the U.S. increased from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.1 million in 2010. A separate study shows that in 2009, dental caries (the disease that causes cavities) and abscesses alone – almost entirely preventable conditions – accounted for nearly 80 percent of dental-related ER visits. While emergency rooms can provide pain relief and treat infection, few hospitals have dentists on staff so they aren't able to provide comprehensive dental care. Moving patients with dental pain out of the ER and into the dental chair ensures that they get the right care at the right place. Read the ADA research brief (PDF) about the increase in dental-related emergency department visits. Read about a strategy adopted by a Maine hospital experiencing growing numbers of patients coming to the ER with dental pain.

Learn more about the ADA's involvement in emergency room referral programs.

• Expand access to care for the elderly in nursing homes. Approximately 1.3 million nursing home residents face the greatest barriers to accessing dental care of any population group. Federal law requires nursing home facilities to provide dental care to residents, including routine and emergency care. But delivering dental care to these patients has been problematic. Now, dentists across the country are adopting nursing homes in their communities using the existing public health safety net. It's an immediate and affordable solution for nursing home residents. Legislation currently before Congress (PDF) would provide grants to organizations that help coordinate free dental care to poor and disabled adults, including senior citizens.

• Increase programs where dentists can directly provide care to those who are suffering from lack of dental care today. Programs like Give Kids A Smile® and Missions of Mercy provide important platforms for dentists to deliver care directly to those in need. Each year, approximately 450,000 children benefit from 1,500 Give Kids A Smile events nationwide. Missions of Mercy events across America have served more than 143,000 patients, providing nearly $90 million in free services since 2000, according to the America's Dentists Care Foundation. These programs, along with the free and discounted care that individual dentists provide every day, aggregate into an estimated $2.6 billion per year.

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