An increasing number of New Jersey residents are going to hospital emergency rooms for dental treatment.

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According to Kerry McKean Kelly, vice president of communications and member services at the New Jersey Hospital Association, a couple of issues are at play here.

"We have the lack of dental insurance for many individuals who may not have a relationship with a dentist for preventative services, and people know the ER is always an option, regardless of ability to pay," McKean Kelly said, however adding, "The ER truly is not equipped to deal with most dental issues. About the only thing an ER physician would be able to do is perhaps provide a pain medication if there's obvious infection, maybe an antibiotic, but the true dental services could not be provided in the ER setting."

She said another problem is that going to the ER with a dental issue contributes to rising healthcare costs.

"The emergency room is one of the most expensive settings in all of healthcare to receive services," McKean Kelly said. "It's staffed 24/7, there's a lot of high-tech equipment there."

She also said in emergency rooms, there is a triage system in place, so "if you have a room full of patients and some are trauma patients or having a very serious health issue, the staff is going to take care of those folks first."

McKean Kelly said preventative care is necessary to prevent problems that can become more serious. Jim Schultz, director of governmental and public affairs for the New Jersey Dental Association, said that care is available in a number of different ways.

"Regardless of income, there are pathways for you to find oral treatment services available to you," Schultz said. "If you don't have dental insurance there are programs available, such as our donated dental services program, to help people through means-based assistance."

Schultz said low-income New Jerseyans may also be able to get dental care at federally qualified health centers.

"No matter what option you choose, it is critical that in order to maintain good overall health, that you maintain good oral health," he said.

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