Dental Emergencies Treatment Program

Putting a ‘DENT’ in emergency department dental cases

2016MLA-PHC-DentalSpend a day in the emergency department at any city hospital and at some point, you are likely to see a patient come in with a dental emergency. Because most EDs are not set up to provide dental care, often the staff can do little more than provide some pain relief.

Providence caregivers in Spokane, Wash., wanted to do more for these patients, who often have no insurance for dental work and are unable to afford dental care on their own. Working with other groups in Eastern Washington that are focused on improving community health, the Community Cares: Dental Emergencies Needing Treatment (DENT for short) Program was born in July 2014.

The group is attacking the problem in multiple ways:

  • Attracting more dentists in the area, particularly those who will accept Medicaid patients
  • Systematically referring ED patients to dentists
  • Coaching patients on what to expect during the dental appointment

Patients in Providence emergency departments who have dental problems are asked if they will accept a referral to DENT. If a patient agrees, a request is faxed to a DENT community health worker. In most cases, the health worker will reach the patient within 48 hours and schedule that person for an emergency dental appointment. If the patient needs pain medication, it usually is prescribed prior to leaving the hospital.

During the call with the DENT community health worker, the patient is coached on how to prepare for the dental appointment, reminding the patient to be on time, not to bring along the entire family and to follow the dentist’s care plan.

Besides providing dental referrals for ED patients, Providence provides funds to pay the DENT health workers. If patients lack medical insurance, Providence staff members will help them apply for coverage. By working with our community partners on all aspects of the DENT plan, we hope to significantly improve health care for the people of Eastern Washington.