More Americans are going to the emergency room for preventable dental problems, according to a new report.
A study by the Pew Center on the States shows the number of people visiting the ER for routine dental care rose by 16 percent between 2006 and 2009.
"Emergency rooms are really the canary in the coal mine. If people are showing up in the ER for dental care, then we've got big holes in the delivery of care," said Shelly Gehshan, director of Pew's children's dental campaign.
"It's just like pouring money down a hole," she said. "It's the wrong service, in the wrong setting, at the wrong time."
One reason is a shortage of dentists, particularly those who treat Medicaid patients.
Going to the ER is about 10 times more expensive than preventive care. In 2010, more than 115,000 people visited the emergency room for dental care at a cost of about $88 million.
To address the problem, Pew is working with states to provide training for dental hygienists and other dental health workers in treating cavities and other uncomplicated procedures.