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

Published 01/09/2023

Millions of adults in the US 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 North Carolina. 

Percentage of ED Visits for Dental Problems Is Much Higher among Uninsured Adults in North Carolina than National Average 

Researchers found that North Carolinians ages 25–34 enrolled in Medicaid make up nearly 21% of all ED visits for NTDCs, about half the national rate (approximately 43%). Meanwhile, uninsured adults ages 25–34 make up approximately 61% of the ED dental visits in North Carolina, compared to 34% nationally. Other findings in North Carolina include:  

  • Adults ages 25–34 have the highest rate of ED use for NTDCs (204.1 visits per 10,000 people), while adults ages 65 and older have the lowest rate (18.5 visits per 10,000 people).  
  • Black residents of all ages visit the ED for NTDCs at a rate more than double the rate of white residents and nearly 4.5 times more than the rate of Hispanic residents. 
  • In 2019, the total cost of ED visits for NTDCs in North Carolina was nearly $116 million. The average charge for an ED visit for NTDCs was $1,527 in North Carolina — less than the national average at $1,872 but much more than a dental office visit at $90–$200.  

The visual report also covers promising solutions to expand access to care, including comprehensive adult dental coverage within Medicaid and Medicare. As of 2020, the end of the data collection period, North Carolina did not offer an extensive Medicaid adult dental benefit. Access to extensive dental benefits plays a crucial role in increasing access to and utilization of preventive care and reducing disparities in dental care visits. 

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