The uninsured turn to the emergency department for dental complaints

June 26, 2003

Emergency departments often provide care for dental emergencies, and usually those patients with dental complaints are uninsured or publicly insured (Medicaid), according to a new study to be published in the July 2003 Annals of Emergency Medicine. (Dental Complaints in Emergency Departments: A National Perspective, p. 93)

Researchers from the Child Health Institute in Seattle looked at four years (1997 to 2000) of data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and found an average of 738,000 annual emergency department visits were for tooth pain or tooth injury. Visits for dental complaints were highest among the 19- to 35-year-old age group, accounting for 1.3 percent of all emergency department visits. In the majority of visits, antibiotics or pain medications were prescribed and patients were referred to clinics for follow up.

"Considering dental care is the commonly cited unmet health care need nationally, it is doubtful uninsured patients and Medicaid patients have access to regular dental care, which is why they turn to the emergency department as their last resort," said Charlotte Lewis, MD, MPH, and lead author of the study. "It is unknown whether these patients received follow-up dental care after their emergency department visits."
Annals of Emergency Medicine is the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians, a national medical specialty organization with nearly 23,000 members. The preceding highlights from the July 2003 issue are not intended to substitute for articles as sources of information. To obtain copies of the articles or to speak with study authors, contact Colleen Hughes at the telephone number above or by e-mail at

American College of Emergency Physicians

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