Every year in the United States an insidious thing happens. Across the 5,627 hospitals in America, there are 1.4 million emergency room visits for basic dental conditions. Conditions that a Dentist or, dare I say, even Dental Therapists could correct. These are not complex medical issues but dental caries, pulpal and periapical lesions, gingival and periodontal lesions.
Image source: http://www.thefix.com
Many in the dental profession will remember the sad passing of a boy named Deamonte Driver in Washington, DC. It was particularly sad because, in a time before the Affordable Care Act, his family just became ineligible for Medicaid and the death happened so near to Capitol Hill. Moreover, his family was more focused on his brother’s oral health because he had six cavities…..Deamonte was thought to have better oral health than his brother. Deamonte’s death was tragic and unnecessary, however, did you know that another 312 people die every year in our hospitals after attending because of a basic dental problem?!
Image source: http://freespaceway.com/dentistinfl/
This information is aggregated from two studies we completed – one considering hospitalized patients with dental problems and another looking at emergency room visits for dental problems. Roughly 277 in-patients and 36 ER patients die after coming to the hospital because of a dental problem. It is not necessarily so that the dental problem caused mortality, however, the dental problem did necessitate their hospital visit which lead to their ultimate demise.
Medical care is seen as a necessity while dental care is sometimes considered a luxury. Medicare includes negligible dental coverage (and, it’s true, the ADA had something to do with that) and Medicaid has limited dental coverage. Yet, our studies found that when patients end up in hospital because of a dental problem, 25% of hospitalized patients and 8% of ER patients were Medicare. Additionally, 18% of hospitalized and 31% of ER patients were Medicaid. The federal and state governments end up paying for these dental problems through ER’s and hospitals where it is considered a “medical necessity.” But research shows that ER’s manage many dental problems inappropriately and 96% of dental related ER visits require a subsequent dental visit anyway!
The dental profession, healthcare advocates and all sane people must push for better dental coverage for our government patients – the affordable care act brought great improvements but failed to resolve this crisis. Doing nothing will mean another 313 people will die this year in 2017. And that’s how we can kill 313 people by doing nothing.