The emergency department (ED) is a stressed part of the US healthcare system. People use the ED unnecessarily for many reasons.

Some people use the ED because they don’t have money and feel they won’t be turned away from care for that reason at the ED. People lacking access to preventive care may avoid seeing the doctor until their need becomes acute, and then they will seek care at the ED. Finally, some people mistakenly consider their situation an emergency, when it doesn’t actually require care at the ED.

A new study gives us powerful insights into these avoidable ED visits, showing that toothaches are the most common reason why people unnecessarily seek care at the ED. This is not only costly, but can lead to poor care, because the ED is not well equipped to deal with dental emergencies.

An emergency room sign

The Causes of Avoidable ED Visits

This new study looked at a large number of ED visit records: more than 115,000 randomly selected from a ED visits from 2005 to 2011. Statistically, they claim that these visits represent about 425 million ED visits nationwide.

They analyzed these records to determine whether the visits were “avoidable,” which they defined as visits that didn’t require diagnostic tests, procedures, medications, or hospital admittance.

The good news is that avoidable visits accounted for a relatively small fraction of total visits: only about 3.3% of total visits considered avoidable. The top five reasons for avoidable ED visits were:

  • Toothache 3.1% of avoidable visits
  • Back pain 2.8% of avoidable visits
  • Headache 2.7% of avoidable visit
  • Psychosis symptoms 2.5 % of avoidable visits
  • Sore throat 2.4% of avoidable visits

Overall, dental causes contributed to nearly 4% of avoidable visits. Mental health visits accounted for even more of the avoidable visits, nearly 7%.

Researchers noted that there were many potential policy approaches that might be used to try to reduce the numbers of these unnecessary visits. In particular, it seems that we might do something to try to reduce the divide between coverage for dental and other healthcare expenses so that more people will have access to preventive dental care.

Why You Shouldn’t Go to the ED for Dental Care

We understand that there may be some situations where you feel it’s unavoidable, but, in general, it’s best not to go to the ED for dental care.

First of all, going to the ED for dental care is expensive. If they can manage to get you to pay for it, they will. And even if you escape paying, those expenses just get passed on to other people.

Second, the ED isn’t equipped to diagnose your problem. They likely won’t be able to properly figure out what’ causing your problem. Thi means that they’ll either give you no treatment, ineffective treatment, or short-term treatment.

Third, ED doctors will likely look for simple solutions to your conditions that may not be best for the health or beauty of your smile. For example, they may be more likely to extract a tooth that might be savable with restorative dentistry procedures like root canal therapy.

If you’re looking for quality care for your dental problems, it’s always best to work with a dentist in Wilmington, NC. Please call (910) 392-6060 today for an appointment with Dr. Michael Kuzma at Kuzma Advanced Dentistry.