A&E
Dental patients visiting A&E with toothache is costing the NHS £12.5 million a year, a new study has shown

Dental patients visiting A&E for free dental treatment could be costing the NHS £18 million, a new study has shown.

Patients visiting A&E with dental problems are now reaching 1% of the total number of patients passing through, which is 10 times more than official government figures show.

‘Ministers keep underestimating how much their indifference to dentistry has knock-on effects across the health service,’ Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, chair of General Dental Practice at the British Dental Association (BDA), said.

‘GPs and A&E medics are having to pick up the pieces, while government’s only strategy is to ask our patients to pay more in to plug the funding gap.

‘We are seeing patients who need our care pushed towards medical colleagues who aren’t equipped to treat them.

‘As long as government keeps slashing budgets, and ramping up charges we will keep seeing more of the same.’

Attending A&E for toothache

More than half of the dental patients visiting A&E are attending for cases related to toothache.

The BDA has estimated that under-reporting of dental patients in A&E could mean 135,000 patients are visiting costing almost £18 million, 95,000 of which have cases related to toothache costing £12.5 million.

‘If you experience toothache without significant other symptoms, then heading to a hospital’s A&E department isn’t always the best option,’ Dr Justin Durham, NIHR clinician scientist, senior lecturer in oral surgery and orofacial pain, Newcastle University and honorary consultant at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the senior author on the study, said.

‘Ensuring that patients are treated in the right place, at the right time, by the right team is essential for both the patient and the wider public, not just to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment but also reduce unnecessary care, and personal costs.

‘This paper and other recently published data from Newcastle University’s Orofacial pain research team suggest there are potentially significant problems in the care pathways both for toothache, and also the group of conditions that cause persistent mouth and face pain such as temporomandibular disorders, and trigeminal neuralgia.’

The BDA believes 600,000 patients a year visit GPs with dental pain and is calling on the government to provide a coherent strategy for oral health.