Ohio's Dental Drama: The ER Not the Best Place for Care
April 12, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio - More and more Ohio emergency rooms are treating patients who show up suffering from broken or infected teeth, but who don't have access to regular dental care.
The executive director of the CincySmiles Foundation, Dr. Larry Hill, says not only is emergency room care expensive, it typically doesn't resolve the dental issue.
"Usually, the physicians in the emergency room wind up providing pain medications and antibiotics. But they can't address the actual source of the dental problem, because physicians aren't trained to do that."
Dr. Hill says improving access to dental care has not been a legislative priority. He believes it's because many people don't realize that dental care is an essential part of a person's overall health.
"'The hand bone is connected to the wrist bone,' and the oral cavity is part of the rest of the body. It has the same blood system, the same nervous system, and the same system that carries infection; and so, when people have oral infections, they're putting their general health at tremendous risk."
He says expanding access to care would reduce emergency room visits, which cost on average $140 apiece. He suggests more dental care teams should include mid-level providers. These dental therapists are trained to provide routine care, fill cavities and perform some extractions.
Critics have charged that dental therapists are under-trained, but Hill disagrees. He says they actually have more clinical experience in their scope of services than a dental school graduate.
"These folks definitely get more training, more supervision, more constant and ongoing oversight once they've graduated, than dentists receive."
The federal government says there are 59 areas of Ohio with a shortage of dental care providers.