Emergency Department Visits for Preventable Dental Conditions in California

Lisa Simonson Maiuro, Health Management Associates

This snapshot documents the extent to which uninsured and insured Californians use the ED for preventable dental conditions such as untreated cavities, dental abscesses, and periodontal disease.

March 2009

On average, California emergency departments (EDs) log more than 80,000 visits a year for preventable dental conditions. Left untreated, cavities and other routine dental problems can develop into serious infections that require immediate treatment, exacting a high cost both on patients and on the health care system.

This snapshot uses data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) to document the extent to which uninsured and insured Californians use the ED for preventable dental conditions such as untreated cavities, dental abscesses, and periodontal disease.

Among the findings:

  • People without private insurance are at least seven times more likely to visit the ED, controlling for other demographic characteristics.
  • People living in rural areas are more likely to visit the ED.
  • Statewide, the ED visit rate, without hospitalization, for preventable dental conditions runs higher than that for diabetes.
  • People age 18 to 34 are significantly more likely than those in other age groups under age 65 to visit the ED.
  • Women visit the ED at slightly higher rates than men do.

The report concludes with recommendations for developing a more comprehensive dental safety net, improving insurance coverage, raising reimbursement rates, and promoting good oral health practices.

The complete report is available under Document Downloads.