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

Mario Brondani, Syed H. Ahmad


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.


Emergency room; dental emergencies; cost; public health; policy

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