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Study finds preventive oral healthcare is beneficial to patients and emergency departments

Schools of Dentistry and Public Health collaborate on study

Preventive treatment could save patients time and money by helping them avoid emergency oral health treatment. As a result, providers in emergency departments could be available to treat critical medical concerns.

That is a summary of the findings from collaborators Fotinos Panagakos, DMD, PhD, Joshua Austin, MA, MSc, and Stephen Davis, PhD, shared from their research, “Prevalence of Non-Traumatic Problems in West Virginia Emergency Departments.”

April 15, Panagakos, the West Virginia University School of Dentistry Associate Dean for Research, presented the research findings at the 20th National Oral Health Conference in Memphis, TN. Both Davis and Austin are researchers from the School of Public Health.

Their research, made possible by a grant from the Benedum Foundation, examined the prevalence and characteristics of the population who utilizes three WVU Medicine emergency departments for non-traumatic dental problems. Through the project, researchers also documented the burden of oral health disease on the healthcare system when treatment is palliative.

The results further demonstrated that half of non-traumatic dental visits had Medicaid as the insurer, and one in five visits were by the uninsured. Adults (19+) accounted for 86 percent of visits. Five diagnoses accounted for 82 percent of all visits; four of the diagnoses could have been better addressed in a dental setting. The fifth could have been prevented with appropriate preventive dental care.

It was concluded that for less than the average charge of an emergency department visit for a non-traumatic dental problem, which does not permanently address the underlying issue, a patient could receive preventive dental care for one year in West Virginia. Findings lend credence to the creation of a Medicaid adult dental benefit in West Virginia, as this population is disproportionately utilizing the emergency department for dental care.

(Pictured above: Ms. Kim Tieman, Benedum Foundation, and Dr. Panagakos, pose before the poster presentation.)