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Association of Ontario Health Centres
Association des centres de sante de l’Ontario

Ontario's voice for community-governed primary health care.

Information on Hospital Emergency Room Visits for Dental Problems in Ontario

  • About 1 in every 5 people in Canada avoids visiting a dentist because they cannot afford the cost, according to a 2014 report by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. 
  • In Ontario about 2.3 million people cannot afford to visit a dental office.
  • Across Ontario in 2014 there were almost 61,000 visits to hospital Emergency Rooms (ER) for oral health problems.*
  • This means that every 9 minutes someone is visiting ER in Ontario because of dental pain.
  • This is evidence that many people are using costly acute care ER for dental problems because they cannot afford dental treatment.
  • However, at the ER people can only get pain killers, not treatment to solve the problem. So many will return to ER. 
  • Our research found that more people visit ER for dental problems than for diabetes problems.
  • This is a costly and inappropriate use of hospital ER.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Health & Long Term Care has committed to ensure people get the right care, at the right time, at the right place.
  • Ontarians should be able to receive affordable preventative dental care in their communities. But OHIP does not cover our teeth and gums. The cost of private dentistry is a major barrier to access.
  • At a minimum cost of $513/visit, the total estimated cost for dental visits to ER in Ontario was at least $31 million in 2014.
  • People are also visiting physicians’ offices for dental problems. In 2012 there were almost 218,000 visits. At a minimum cost of $33.70/visit the total estimated cost was at least $7.3million.
  • The Ministry of Health & Long Term Care set up Health Links in 2012 with one goal being to reduce avoidable ER visits. http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/transformation/community.aspx 
  • Dental visits to ER are avoidable. We need government investment in public dental programs for low income adults and seniors.
  • If low income people could get their oral health needs met at public clinics and Community Health Centres they would not be clogging up their local ER or visiting their physicians.
  • The Ontario government should re-direct the $38million (minimum estimate) spent on acute care for oral health in ERs and physician offices and increase investment to ensure a properly funded program to provide public oral health care for low income adults and seniors. 
  • The Ontario Oral Health Alliance calls on the Ontario government to extend current public oral health programs for low income children to reach low income adults and seniors.
Vists to Ontario Hospital Emergency Rooms for Oral Helath Problems, 2014*
LHIN Number of Patient Visits
CENTRAL 4,008
CENTRAL EAST 6,337
CENTRAL WEST 2,168
CHAMPLAIN 5,944
ERIE ST. CLAIR 3,160
HAMILTON NIAGARA HALDIMAND BRANT 6,582
MISSISSAUGA HALTON 2,507
NORTH SIMCOE MUSKOKA 3,392
NORTH-EAST 6,616
NORTH-WEST 2,696
SOUTH EAST 3,859
SOUTH WEST 6,806
TORONTO CENTRAL 3,562
WATERLOO WELLINGON 2,779
Total 60,416

*Reasons for visits: disease of oral cavity, salivary glands and jaws. Most common complaint: abscess, toothache.

Source of data: Ministry of Health & Long Term Care IntelliHEALTH ONTARIO

Costing:

According to St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, the average cost for a visit to their Emergency Room to see a physician about a dental emergency is at least $513. This does not include the cost for those people who will require hospitalization.

Using this figure OOHA estimates the total cost of visits to Ontario hospital Emergency Rooms for oral health problems was at least $31 million in 2014.

Note prepared by: Jacquie Maund
Association of Ontario Health Centres, October, 2014
jacquie@aohc.org