One reason for elevated costs in our healthcare system is the overuse of the emergency department (ED). People come to the ED for many reasons that don’t require emergency care, either because they can’t afford to see a doctor or they’ve put off care until their need becomes acute.
Whatever the reason, these “avoidable” ED visits can consume resources and lead to other people paying for this expensive care due to nonpayment or only partial payment.
But what are the most common “avoidable” reasons why people go to the ED for care? Can prevention cut down on these unnecessary ED visits?
A new study shows that the leading cause of avoidable ED visits is actually a toothache. Not only is this something best handled through preventive care: it’s something that people may receive poor care for if they go to the ED.
The Causes of Avoidable ED Visits
For this new study, researchers examined more than 115,000 ED visit records that were selected at random. These records span from 2005 to 2011, and researchers claim that these records are statistically representative of about 425 million ED visits during this period.
Researchers looked at the records to determine whether they represented an “avoidable” visit: one that didn’t require hospital admittance, procedures, diagnostic tests, or medications appropriate to the ED.
The best part of their findings is that there were only a small number of avoidable ED visits, about 3.3%. Researchers then broke down the various causes for avoidable visits. The top five most common causes were:
- Toothache (3.1% of avoidable visits)
- Back pain (2.8% )
- Headache (2.7%)
- Psychosis symptoms (2.5%)
- Sore throat (2.4%)
Adding in other dental reasons for avoidable visits, the total fraction of avoidable ED visits for dentistry rises to 4%, which is second only to mental health visits, which account for nearly 7% of all avoidable ED visits.
For dental visits, it’s clear that these could easily be reduced by increased preventive care, including avoiding dental injuries. But it might also be good to help people understand why the ED isn’t the best place to go with their tooth emergencies.
Why You Shouldn’t Go to the ED for Dental Care
If you are considering going to the ED for dental care, it’s best to take a moment to really consider. There are few occasions when going to the ED is the best decision for your dental care.
The first reason why it’s not a bad idea is that the ED is an expensive place to get dental care. The bill for an emergency room visit is going to be much higher than seeing a dentist for the same problem.
And because the ED isn’t equipped for dental diagnosis and treatment, they’re unlikely to be able to find the true cause of your pain. Instead, they’ll give you short-term treatments like pain relievers and antibiotics, both of which might temporarily reduce your symptoms, but won’t actually cure your problem. You’re unlikely to get good reconstructive dentistry.
Finally, ED doctors aren’t considering what is best for the long-term health and beauty of your smile. Instead, they’re just looking for something to get you on your way. This means they may decide, for example, to extract a tooth that might have been saved, and they may not even set you up to have a good dental implant procedure.
If you can, it’s best to get a dentist to treat your dental problems. And it’s best to get them taken care of before they become emergencies.