T The cost of emergency room visits for chronic dental conditions totaled more than $22 million in 2016, according to a study released today by the Maryland Dental Action Coalition (MDAC), the state’s leading non-governmental oral health policy and advocacy organization.

In fiscal year 2016, Maryland adults made 42,327 emergency department visits for chronic dental conditions, with an average charge of $537 per visit, for a total of $22.7 million. These visits represent almost 2% of overall emergency room costs. Medicaid paid for 53% of those visits, even though Medicaid participants only account for 15% of the adult population in Maryland. This discrepancy is likely the result of the lack of consistent adult dental coverage in the Medicaid program.

Many Maryland adults face serious financial obstacles to obtaining dental care, which can lead to serious oral health issues and drive them to the emergency room with tooth pain and oral infections. Emergency rooms are unable to treat the causes of dental pain, so they treat the symptoms and send patients home with antibiotics, pain medications, or referrals for dental services that patients may not be able to afford. The high cost of treating symptoms in an emergency room without treating the underlying dental condition is costly, ineffective, and a poor use of resources.

Maryland is behind most states in providing Medicaid adult dental coverage. Over two-thirds of states provide some kind of basic adult dental benefits. Maryland only provides adult dental coverage for narrow eligibility categories, such as pregnant women and young adults who have aged out of foster care. For most adults, Medicaid will only guarantee coverage for antibiotics and pain management for dental conditions.

Although dental professionals statewide strive to help at-need patients through programs and non-profits that offer low-cost care, the more than 2,500 free adult dental procedures performed annually at Dental Mission of Mercy events in Maryland clearly demonstrate a growing oral health crisis and the need for affordable dental care.

Read the cover letter MDAC submitted to the Maryland General Assembly with the report.

Read the report MDAC submitted to the Maryland General Assembly.

Read more about hospital visits for dental conditions in Maryland.

Learn more about SB 169, which authorized the study.