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March 5, 2012 Brief

The link between budgets and bicuspids

With nearly 40% of Mainers living in areas designated by the federal government as short on dental care, a panel is convening to explore the economic impact of limited access to affordable dental care.

"The growing need to manage health costs requires a look at possible new policies to expand access to dental services for adults and children alike," according to a press release from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, host of the event.

The discussion is based on a report from the Pew Center on the States, which shows a correlation between lack of access to affordable dental care and a subsequent drain on states' budgets as low-income patients flock to emergency rooms to deal with preventable dental conditions.

Health care costs are often cited as a primary concern within Maine's business community, costs that tend to rise when patients lacking access or proximity to dental care are forced to seek urgent care in the state's emergency rooms.

Dental disease was the leading reason for ER visits to Maine's hospitals by Medicaid enrollees and uninsured young people ages 15 to 24 in 2006, according to a 2010 report from the Muskie School for Public Service. The report cited poor access to both preventive and acute dental care as a driving factor in the ER visits.

Nationwide, 330,000 dental-related ER trips in 2006 cost states nearly $110 million in Medicare costs and other expenses, according to Pew. Especially large hospital bills can result when emergency dental procedures require the use of a general anesthetic. Preventable dental conditions were the primary diagnosis in 830,590 visits to the nation's ERs in 2009 — a 16% increase from 2006.

Matt Dodge

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