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Action for Dental Health

ED Case Studies

Types of Emergency Department Referral Models:

Check out the seven Emergency Department Referral Models (PDF)

Michigan: ER visits for dental pain decreased by 72%

In Calhoun County, a unique partnership between local dentists, community leaders and low-income residents is revolutionizing access to dental care. Patients who demonstrate financial need are referred to volunteer dentists from several sources, including hospital emergency rooms. Volunteer dentists provide treatment to the patients in their own offices. As payment, patients provide community service to local nonprofit organizations.

  • ER visits for dental pain have decreased by 72% over 5 years and repeat visits have been nearly eliminated
  • Local hospital has saved $6 million in 4.5 years
  • More than 43,000 hours of volunteer service have been contributed to the community
  • 3,024 patients have been treated

Maine: Up to 70% reduction in ER visits for dental pain in some hospitals

In Maine, a simple model to use the dental workforce more efficiently gets big results. Every patient who presents to the ER with dental pain receives one prescription for painkillers and antibiotics and a referral to a local clinic or oral surgeon. The goal is to eliminate visits to the ER for the same problem. The program’s organizers report that ER visits for dental pain and infection at some participating hospitals have been reduced by as much as 70 percent, with the potential to save the state millions in Medicaid dollars. The pilot program, which began with 11 hospitals, is expected to expand to all 32 hospitals in Maine.

Washington: Dentistry and medicine join forces to treat the uninsured

Swedish Medical Center in Seattle experienced an increase in ER visits for dental pain following severe cuts in adult dental Medicaid. Working with state and local dental societies, the hospital was able to reduce preventable visits to the ER by providing complex tooth extractions on-site to patients who are unable to receive care through the dental safety net. Volunteer dentists are recruited by the local dental society.

  • Recognized by the Health Resources and Services Administration as a best practice for referring dental patients from the ER
  • 380 patients were treated by more than 30 volunteer dentists in the first year
  • An estimated 1,000 patients will be treated by 60 volunteer dentists in the second year

Virginia: In-hospital dental clinic significantly improves patient care

A pilot program to refer patients with dental pain from the ER to an urgent dental care clinic located in the hospital resulted in the following outcomes:

  • Dental-related problems managed in the ER decreased by 52%
  • Dental patients with repeat visits to the ER decreased by 66%

 More Emergency Department Referral Programs in Action


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