Adult Use of Emergency Departments for Non-Traumatic Dental Conditions: Spotlight on Kentucky

Published 11/04/2022

Millions of Americans lack access to routine dental care and resort to visiting hospital emergency departments (EDs) for non-traumatic dental conditions (NTDCs). What drives these costly ED visits and who is most likely to make them? A new visual report from CareQuest Institute explores those questions within the state of Kentucky.  

Percentage of Adults on Medicaid Visiting the ED for Dental Pain in Kentucky Is Above National Average  

Researchers found that Kentuckians ages 25–34 enrolled in Medicaid make up 65% of all ED visits for NTDCs, compared to approximately 43% nationally. While uninsured adults ages 25–34 make up approximately 17% of the ED dental visits in Kentucky, the uninsured percentage is twice as much nationally at 34%. Other findings in Kentucky include: 

  • Adults ages 25–34 have the highest rate of ED use for NTDCs (153.2 visits per 10,000 people), while adults ages 65 and older have the lowest rate (14.5 visits per 10,000 people). 
  • Across all demographic groups, Black residents of all ages have the highest rate of ED use for NTDCs with 108.5 visits per 10,000 people. This is more than 1.5 times the rate for white residents, and nearly three times the rate for Hispanic residents. 
  • In 2019, the total cost of ED visits for NTDCs in Kentucky was more than $44 million. The average charge for an ED visit for NTDCs was $1,598 in Kentucky — less than the national average at $1,872 but much more than a dental office visit at $90–$200. 

As of 2020, the end of the data collection period, Kentucky did not offer an extensive Medicaid adult dental benefit. In October 2022, Governor Andy Beshear announced that the state will expand dental care for all Medicaid-enrolled adults effective January 2023. The expanded coverage will include preventive and restorative dental care. This is a giant step toward improving access to care and creating an equitable oral health system for the people of Kentucky. 

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