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Can J Public Health. 2017 Sep 14;108(3):e279-e281. doi: 10.17269/cjph.108.5915.

The 1% of emergency room visits for non-traumatic dental conditions in British Columbia: Misconceptions about the numbers.

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Associate Professor, Faculty of Dentistry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.


In Canada, about 1% of all emergency room (ER) visits in a given year are made by patients with a primary diagnosis of a non-traumatic, non-urgent and yet preventable condition, such as tooth decay. This percentage is typically dismissed as irrelevant. Using 2013-2014 British Columbia data on ER use from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, however, we argue that the 1% figure (and its associated cost) has to be considered beyond its percentage value. In 2013-2014 alone, 12 357 non-traumatic dental visits were made to ERs in BC representing 1% of the total number of ER visits at a cost of $154.8 million to the taxpayers (across Canada, all visits to ER cost $1.8 billion/year). But the vast majority of these dental visits are discharged while the oral problem likely persists, hence taxpayer dollars are wasted. The belief that these dental-related ER visits are insignificant within the total cost for the health care system is misleading: treatment is not given, the problem is not resolved, and yet there is a high cost to taxpayers and to the society at large. Public health resources should be reallocated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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