BACKGROUND: Hospital emergency department (ED) visits for non-urgent care have been increasing since the late 1950s. This study investigated the prevalence and characteristics of pediatric ED visits for dental problems during a five-year period.
METHODS: This retrospective study included newborns through 17-year-olds with dental complaints identified from the electronic register of the ED of Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, between January 1997 and December 2001. The authors described patient characteristics, diagnoses, factors associated with ED use for nontraumatic problems and annual changes in ED visits for dental and nondental complaints.
RESULTS: Of the 1,102 subjects, 809 (73.4 percent) had nontraumatic and 293 (26.6 percent) had traumatic dental complaints. The study revealed a 121 percent increase in ED visits for dental complaints and a 66-fold increase in admissions between 1997 and 2001. Of the inpatient admissions, 68 percent were the result of caries and its sequelae.
CONCLUSIONS: This study revealed a substantial increase in ED visits and hospital admissions for dental problems during the study period. The majority of dental problems were nontraumatic in nature.
PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Dental care experts should be available in ED settings in which increases in such visits are seen. Studies must be conducted to explore ways of keeping patients from seeking care in EDs inappropriately.