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Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2016 Oct;44(5):493-503. doi: 10.1111/cdoe.12239. Epub 2016 Jun 10.

The emergency department as a 'last resort': why parents seek care for their child's nontraumatic dental problems in the emergency room.

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Division of Oral Health and Society, Faculty of Dentistry, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.



Over the last two decades, there has been an increasing trend in the number of families using emergency departments (EDs) for treating their children's nontraumatic dental problems. We do not know why families use the ED in this way; to date, little research has addressed parents' decisions. The purpose of this study was to explore the reasons that lead parents to select the ED over a dental clinic for their child's nontraumatic dental problem.


Using a qualitative descriptive design, we conducted semi-structured interviews with parents of children under age 10 who sought care for nontraumatic dental problems in an ED of a pediatric hospital. The interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and coded for thematic analysis using Grembowski's dental care process model as a sensitizing construct.


Fifteen parents were recruited (ten mothers and five fathers). Three salient themes were identified: (i) parental beliefs and socioeconomic challenges which contributed to their care seeking, (ii) barriers parents faced in finding oral healthcare options for their children in their communities (e.g., poor access to care and poor quality of care), and (iii) parent's high satisfaction with the care provided through the ED.


The ED was families' last resort; parents took their child to the ED because of the lack of other options in their communities rather than a belief that the ED was the best choice for dental care. The current pattern of ED use resulted in stress for these parents and repercussions for the children (e.g., pain, longer waiting, and increased complications); further, it has been shown in the literature to be an economic strain on the health system.


access; emergency department; pediatric dental services; qualitative research

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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