Comparison of patient visits to emergency departments, physician offices, and dental offices for dental problems and injuries

J Public Health Dent. 2011 Winter;71(1):13-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-7325.2010.00195.x.


Objectives: Our understanding of the use of emergency departments (EDs) and physician offices for the management of dental problems is limited. We undertook this study to examine whether there are differences in their use by low-income White and minority adults as compared with higher-income adults.

Methods: Participantsincluded White, Black, and Hispanic adults who had experi enced a dental problem during the previous 12 months and who visited a physician, ED, or dentist for treatment. We selected a stratified random sample of 27,002 Maryland households with listed telephones to screen for eligibility. We identified 1,387 households with an eligible adult, selected 423 for interviews, and completed interviews with 401 (94.8%).

Results: To restore correct proportionality to the sample, and to adjust for nonresponse and the distribution of demographic characteristics, weights were created for use in the analyses. Only 7.1 percent of respondents contacted an ED, while 14.3 percent contacted a physician and 90.2 percent a dentist. The vast majority of respondents who contacted an ED (96.0%) or a physician (92.2%) also contacted a dentist. Lower-income respondents were more likely to seek care from an ED, while higher-income respondents were more likely to seek care from a dentist. Over whelmingly, respondents visiting EDs (89.4%) and physicians (51.7%) were instructed to see a dentist or given prescriptions/samples. Treatment provided by EDs, physicians, and dentists was not associated with the respondent's income or race/ethnicity.

Conclusions: Respondents visiting EDs and physicians typically did not receive definitive care and subsequently visited a dentist for treatment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / therapy
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Dental Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Dental Offices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Dentists / statistics & numerical data
  • Educational Status
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance, Dental / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Maryland
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physicians' Offices / statistics & numerical data*
  • Poverty / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Tooth Diseases / therapy*
  • Tooth Fractures / therapy
  • Tooth Injuries / therapy*
  • Toothache / therapy
  • White People / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult


  • Prescription Drugs