More than 36,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms for preventable oral health conditions cost the Massachusetts health care system between $14.8 million and $36 million in 2014, according to a new Health Policy Commission report.
Sixty percent of the 36,060 preventable oral health visits to emergency departments were made during traditional weekday business hours when dental practices would normally be open, the Health Policy Commission found.
The commission released findings earlier this year showing around half of all preventable oral care emergency room visits for conditions such as tooth decay or gum inflammation were paid for by MassHealth. Between 2008 and 2011, MassHealth paid $11.6 million for oral health-related emergency department visits, according to the brief released Monday.
Adults accounted for 90 percent of the visits, with young adults between the ages of 19 and 35 using the emergency department for oral health treatment at the highest rates. "These results may reflect both problems arising from a lack of care earlier in life as well as relatively low rates of coverage for this age group," the report said.
The commission suggested oral health access could be increased by authorizing mid-level dental health providers to provide basic care and by supporting tele-dentistry initiatives to "expand the geographic reach of dental providers."
The state Senate added on to its 2017 budget a policy rider that would have allowed mid-level dental hygiene practitioners to perform certain procedures. That section was not included in the final budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed in July.