WSHA data analysis spotlights need for preventative dental care for Medicaid patients

March 21, 2024

WSHA’s Data Analytics team studied Medicaid adult dental emergency visits in Washington for our analysis of the month  in March. We studied this because emergency departments (EDs) are expensive place to get care compared to dedicated dental clinics.  We are always looking for ways to increase preventative services that could reduce the demand on these critical safety net centers and lower the cost of health care in our state. While preventive services are covered through the Medicaid fee-for-service program, the network is limited, especially for adults. This results in patients seeking care in EDs for preventable conditions.

On average, Washington EDs cared for  around 1,100 patients per month between January 2022 and November 2023 in which the primary diagnosis involved dental care. During that period, there were 102,147 dental claims, and 45,396 had dental as the primary reason for the visit.

The American Dental Association has estimated that ED visits for dental care may cost three times as much as a visit to the dentist and average $749 if the patient isn’t hospitalized. This amounts to $1.6 billion annually (one-third of which is paid by Medicaid).

Oral diseases, while largely preventable, can be a significant threat and affect a patient throughout their life. Patients with chronic health conditions can be more prone to poor oral health and vice versa. For those without sufficient dental coverage, EDs can become a safety net to receive care for treating oral health pain or symptoms. Individuals from low-income areas are more likely to have a dental ED visit.

For the full report, please click here.

This analysis, along with many other in-depth data sets, is available to DASH premium subscribers.  These are topics WSHA plans to continue monitoring using our Washington State Hospital Discharge Dataset and DASH/DASH Premium products. For more dashboards and ad-hoc explorers, please visit DASH and DASH Premium on If you would like to learn more about DASH Premium, please contact Ed Phippen at or (206) 216-2556 .


Gina Fonseca

Senior Data Analyst


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