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New clinics hope to curb ER visits for dental emergencies

Posted at 3:11 PM, Oct 11, 2018

When you think reasons you might end up in the emergency room, is dental pain on the list?

The number of people going to the ER for dental treatment has increased dramatically in U.S., going from roughly 1 million in the year 2000 to 2 million in 2010. And most of the patients have issues that could have easily been prevented.

Now, new programs are working to make sure people get the help they need.

Elvia Lopez may be one of the few people who, somewhat, enjoys going to the dentist. And for good reason.

“The people who work here, they really pay attention to you and it helps you feel good,” Lopez says.

But that's not the only reason.

“I feel comfortable with the prices,” she says.

Lopez pays for treatment based on her income. But she might not be here getting it, if it wasn’t for the sliding scale.

“There's effort put into it, but sometimes you can't do it,” Lopez says.

She's at the dental clinic at the Inner City Health Center. Dentists there see patients for emergencies, cleanings, crowns and everything in between.

The clinic averages about 600 patient visits every month. And it doesn't matter if you have insurance or not.

This is one of the places people are referred to after dental pain lands them in the hospital.

“Sometimes we'll have patients who come in and say they went to the ER over the weekend because they had a huge abscess a huge infection, and basically the hospital will just send them home with antibiotics and tell them to go to a dentist,” Dr. Andrea Leung, the clinic’s dental director, says.

Dr. Leung says that's common, because hospitals aren't equipped to provide comprehensive dental care. That's why hospitals around the area are collaborating with dentist offices that can provide appropriate and effective treatment for much less than what they offer.

“We will see anyone who walks through the door,” Dr. Leung says. “We don't really ask them questions. It's basically if they need dental care then our door is open to them.”

Emergencies here are a $60 flat fee. Additionally, patients pay for other treatments based on income.