BACKGROUND: Untreated dental conditions may progress to lesions that are severe enough to necessitate emergency visits to hospitals. The authors conducted a study to investigate nationally representative trends in U.S. hospital-based emergency department (ED) visits involving dental conditions and to examine patient-related characteristics associated with ED charges.
METHODS: The authors used the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, for the years 2008 through 2010. They selected all ED visits involving patients with a diagnosis of either dental caries, pulpal or periapical lesions, gingival or periodontal conditions, or mouth cellulitis or abscess. Outcomes examined included post-ED disposition status and hospital ED charges.
RESULTS: During the study period, 4,049,361 ED visits involved diagnosis of a dental condition, which is about 1 percent of all ED visits occurring in the entire United States. Uninsured patients made about 40.5 percent of all dental condition-related ED visits. One hundred one patients in the study died in EDs. The mean hospital ED charge per visit was approximately $760 (adjusted to 2010 dollars), and the total ED charges across the entire United States during the three-year study period was $2.7 billion.
CONCLUSIONS: Patients without insurance are a cohort at high risk of seeking dental care in hospital-based ED settings. A substantial amount of hospital resources are used to treat dental conditions in ED settings. Patients with mouth cellulitis, periodontal conditions and numerous comorbidities are likely to incur higher ED charges.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: Dental conditions can be treated more effectively in a dental office setting than in hospital-based settings.