March 26, 2019

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Dentists want to take bite out of ER wait times

Dentists say people who go to the ER for dental issues are best seen by a dentist, which is more cost effective.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Dentists say people who go to the ER for dental issues are best seen by a dentist, which is more cost effective.

Manitoba dentists say they want to reduce crowding in hospital emergency rooms as well as patient suffering while saving the province millions of dollars.

In the new year, Manitoba Dental Association president Dr. Cory Sul expects to meet with Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen to talk about setting up a dental emergency department that would be covered by Manitoba Health.

"The issue is patients overcrowding our ERs and taking up too much of our health-care dollars," Sul said Monday.

Every time someone goes to the ER for a dental issue, it costs the health-care system $625 for them to be seen, as opposed to $45 that a dentist would typically charge, he said.

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Manitoba dentists say they want to reduce crowding in hospital emergency rooms as well as patient suffering while saving the province millions of dollars.

In the new year, Manitoba Dental Association president Dr. Cory Sul expects to meet with Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen to talk about setting up a dental emergency department that would be covered by Manitoba Health.

"The issue is patients overcrowding our ERs and taking up too much of our health-care dollars," Sul said Monday.

Every time someone goes to the ER for a dental issue, it costs the health-care system $625 for them to be seen, as opposed to $45 that a dentist would typically charge, he said.

Patients who can't afford to go to a dentist are showing up too often in hospital emergency departments, where the visit is covered by Manitoba Health, but treatment is limited to writing prescriptions for pain killers or antibiotics. It's temporary relief that doesn't get at the root of the problem and costs taxpayers a fortune, Sul said.

"With dental things, if you don't deal with them definitively, they're going to keep coming back," he said. And they're costing the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority $3.2 million a year, he said.

"The WRHA did an audit of the problem in 2015 and found that over 90 per cent of patients got no treatment other than antibiotics and pain killers," he said. Hospital emergency rooms are not equipped for dental issues, and neither are walk-in clinics or primary-care doctors, two other available options covered under Manitoba Health.

"This is a problem across Canada," he said.

A 2012 Alliance for Healthier Communities in Ontario report found that more people visit the ER for dental problems than for diabetes-related issues. "This is a costly and inappropriate use of hospital ER," the report noted.

If Winnipeg had a dental emergency department available 24-7, it would cut down on hospital ER visits for dental issues, many of which occur during the evening and overnight, when dental offices are generally closed, Sul said.

The University of Manitoba's College of Dentistry at the Health Sciences Centre has the potential to serve as a dental ER, he said.

"It has all of the infrastructure to see dozens of patients at one time," he said, adding it could be a win-win, with a surgeon often available at the University of Manitoba dentistry school, which is always on the lookout for more patients for its students to treat.

He's hoping the health minister will consider setting up a dental ER.

"Improving access to care is a huge priority for Manitoba dentists," Sul said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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