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30,000 in Bay State Use Hospital E-R for Dental Problems

Consumers joined a broad range of advocacy groups at the State House to launch the Oral Health Integration Project, to help the one in ten Bay Staters who lack access to dental care. (HFCA)
Consumers joined a broad range of advocacy groups at the State House to launch the Oral Health Integration Project, to help the one in ten Bay Staters who lack access to dental care. (HFCA)
May 19, 2016

BOSTON - One in 10 Bay Staters lives in an area without sufficient access to dental health professionals, according to a group working to improve that situation. This week, they've launched an Oral Health Integration Project, to provide alternatives for the 30,000 people whose dental problems sent them to hospital emergency rooms in the state in 2014. The goal is to better coordinate dental and medical health care, and Amy Whitcomb Slemmer, executive director Health Care For All Massachusetts, says that is simply not happening in the present system.

"How many people actually present in emergency rooms, with oral health care, with mouth pain, and are either prescribed something to do away with the pain, but can't actually access oral health services through the Emergency Room?" she questioned.

Some 30,000 people in Massachusetts used a hospital emergency room for dental-related issues in 2014, according to the Health Policy Commission. Whitcomb Slemmer adds that young people had the highest rates of ER visits for preventable oral health conditions.

Advocates of the Oral Health Integration Project hosted a briefing at the State House this week. Whitcomb Slemmer says they stress that insurance coverage plays a major role. For instance, adults covered by Mass Health were seven times more likely to have visited a dental-care professional.

"There are statistics out about the number of people who don't actually see a dentist or an oral health-care provider every year," she added. "And the mouth is the gateway to the body, and we know getting good preventive care is also a way to prevent overall illness."

The Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers joined Health Care for All, consumers, advocates, health-care professionals, academics and insurers in forming the task force.

Mike Clifford/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - MA