Background and objectives: Although poor and minority adults experience greater levels of dental disease, they frequently face cost and other system-level barriers to obtaining dental care. These individuals may be forced to use physicians or hospital emergency rooms for the treatment of dental problems. This study was conducted to gain a better understanding of the role that non-dentist health care providers play in providing access to oral health care services.
Methods: Dental conditions and dental condition-related visits to non-dentist health care providers during 2001 for the US civilian noninstitutionalized population were analyzed using data from the Household Component of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.
Results: During 2001, approximately 3.1% of the US population experienced at least one dental problem reported outside of the traditional office-based dental delivery system. Of these, approximately 2.7% received care in a hospital emergency room setting while 7.0% received care in other medical settings. A majority (68.1%) had contact with the formal health care system via a prescription associated with their identified dental problem. Approximately 22.5% did not seek any formal treatment for their problem. Overall, low-income individuals were more likely not to seek formal care than were middle/high-income individuals (32.5% versus 19.7%).
Conclusions: Individuals not using traditional sources of dental care appear to have greater access to physician offices and other medical settings than to hospital emergency rooms for the treatment of dental problems.