Repeated Use of Emergency Departments for Non-Traumatic Dental Conditions: Factors Associated with Being a “Superutilizer”

Published 07/11/2022

Without adequate access to dental care, many Americans resort to the emergency department (ED) for the treatment of non-traumatic dental conditions (NTDCs), which costs the health care system billions of dollars every year. About 1 percent of these visits are made by “superutilizers” who visit the ED for NTDCs four or more times in a year. 

Who are these “superutilizers” and what drives their repeat visits? A study by CareQuest Institute found: 

  • Superutilizers are more likely to be 30-40 years of age, female, and white.  
  • Superutilizers are more likely to have dental insurance coverage through Medicaid or Medicare or to be uninsured, and to live in zip codes in the lowest median income quartile. 
  • Median treatment costs for superutilizers are 76% higher than for general ED patients and 82% higher than for NTDC patients with fewer than four visits in a year. 
  • Superutilizers are more likely to live in states with emergency-only Medicaid adult dental benefits (Florida) compared to states with extensive Medicaid adult dental benefits (New York and Wisconsin).

The study shows the importance of regular dental care and expanded dental services, especially for Americans enrolled in Medicaid.  

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