OBJECTIVES: The inability to access regular dental care may lead to care seeking at hospital emergency departments (EDs). However, EDs generally are not equipped or staffed to provide definitive dental services. This study examined trends and patterns of hospital ED use for dental-related reasons in Florida, a large, diverse state with serious barriers to accessing dental care.
METHODS: Data for this study were drawn from ambulatory ED discharge records compiled by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration for 2005-2014. Visits for dental-related reasons in Florida were defined by the patient’s reported reason for seeking care or the ED physician’s primary diagnosis using ICD-9-CM codes. We calculated frequencies, age-specific and age-adjusted rates per 100,000 population, and secular trends in dental-related ED visits and their associated charges.
RESULTS: The number of dental-related visits to Florida EDs increased each year, from 104,642 in 2005 to 163,900 in 2014; the age-adjusted rate increased by 43.6 percent. Total charges for dental-related ED visits in Florida increased more than threefold during this time period, from $47.7 million in 2005 to $193.4 million in 2014 (adjusted for inflation). The primary payers for dental-related ED visits in 2014 were Medicaid (38 percent), self-pay (38 percent), commercial insurance (11 percent), Medicare (8 percent), and other (5 percent).
CONCLUSIONS: Dental-related visits to hospital EDs in Florida have increased substantially during the past decade, as have their associated charges. Most patients did not receive definitive oral health care in EDs, and this trend represents an increasingly inefficient use of health care system resources.