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The Cost of Dental-Related Emergency Room Visits in Michigan

Over the past decade, nationwide spending on health care increased at an average rate of 6.1% annually, about four percentage points faster than inflation. This alarming increase in the cost of care has motivated policymakers, hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, insurers, patients, and others to rethink how they administer, pay for, and seek care. While there is no consensus on the reason for this rapid growth in the cost of care, most agree that we can combat it by administering care more efficiently.

One area where efficiency gains might be most forthcoming is the utilization of hospitals. Trips to the emergency room and inpatient hospital stays are expensive and, often, preventable. Among the many preventable conditions that end up being treated in emergency rooms, dental conditions may be the most striking. Almost half of all visits to the emergency room for dental conditions are for cavities. Other common conditions include abscesses, tooth removal, and gingivitis (gum disease). There were over 1,000 hospitalizations in the year 2011 in Michigan for preventable dental conditions alone.

These costly visits could have been prevented with proper checkups and dental care. However, particularly among low-income and rural populations, many patients cannot access care for a variety of reasons.

In this report, we estimate the annual cost of treating patients in hospitals for preventable dental conditions. We also review a set of current programs that provide dental care to low-income individuals in Michigan.

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