Putting a DENT in dental emergencies

June 01, 2016

What is the fourth most common reason for a hospital emergency department visit in eastern Washington? The unlikely answer: dental problems.

Spend a day in the emergency department of any city hospital and at some point, you are likely to see a patient come in with a dental emergency. Because most EDs are not set up to provide dental care, often doctors can do no more than provide some pain relief. In our research, Providence has found that dental issues are the fourth most common reason for people who are homeless or low-income to visit our hospital EDs. To help our patients get the dental care they need, Providence partnered with Better Health Together to launch the Dental Emergencies Needing Treatment Program, or DENT for short, in 2014.

Dramatic results: 4,000 patients get dental care

DENT has dramatically reduced the number of dental patients coming to the emergency department for dental problems. Providence recruited more dentists to the area who accept Medicaid, which expanded the network of providers ready to help from 22 to 55 dentists. With more dentists available, Providence can refer patients with dental problems to the DENT program. More than 4,000 patients who received dental care through the program have not returned to the ED for dental pain or infection, saving significant resources in avoidable visits.

Coaching for a successful dental visit

To help patients feel more at ease, a DENT community health worker ensures a smooth transition from the ED by coaching each patient on how to prepare for a dental appointment. This includes reminding the patient to be on time, to arrange for child care during the appointment, and to follow the dentist’s care plan.

A long-term investment in oral health

Providence hopes to significantly improve oral health for the people of Eastern Washington by investing $330,000 in the program during three years and collaborating with community partners.