Fewer Dane County residents are going to emergency rooms for dental pain, but black residents are 10 times more likely than whites to do so, a new report says.
Emergency rooms at SSM Health St. Mary’s, UnityPoint Health-Meriter and UW Health had 2,093 visits for dental pain in 2015, down from about 2,549 visits in 2010, according to the report released Monday by Public Health Madison and Dane County.
Still, the ER visits for non-traumatic dental pain in 2015 amounted to $2.5 million in charges, and the high rate among blacks is concerning, said Debi DeNure, oral health coordinator for the health department.
“If dental care was affordable and accessible to everyone equally, we wouldn’t see this many people with dental infections that have escalated into emergency situations,” DeNure said in a statement.
The Madison Dental Initiative, a clinic at the Salvation Army for people with little or no insurance, has helped some underserved patients.
Health officials have adopted a standard approach to dental emergencies, including little or no opioids for pain and the most effective antibiotics for infections.
But only a third of adults on Medicaid in the county get regular dental care, DeNure said.
“It’s difficult to find a dental clinic that will accept new patients with Medicaid, and as a result, people are ending up in pain and going to the ER,” she said.
Dr. David Gundersen, president of the Oral Health Coalition of Dane County, said: “It’s going to take many levels of solutions and system changes to make an impact.”