Bringing down barriers to dental care
A research project being undertaken by La Trobe University fourth-year Dentistry coordinator, Dr Jacki Goode will facilitate the journey to definitive dental care for future toothache sufferers who currently attend Bendigo Health’s Emergency Department for urgent treatment.
Dr Goode says rural people have worse oral health than city dwellers and are more likely to have untreated decay due to barriers they face in seeking dental care.
"Residents of rural and regional Victorians with tooth problems face issues such as access, cost, fear of dental treatment and time pressures," Dr Goode said.
"Out-of-hours emergency dental care in Bendigo is limited and only available at private practices so presently, public patients have to travel to the Royal Melbourne Dental Hospital for care.
Dr Goode says between July 2010 and June 2011 at least 8262 adults attended Victorian hospital emergency departments with a non- traumatic dental problem (toothache) and over 1400 with a traumatic dental problem.
Bendigo’s Emergency Department saw 321 people attended to with a non- traumatic dental problem between July 2010 and June 2011.
"More adults attended rural emergency departments than metropolitan emergency departments (3724 v 3555)., if you then consider the population, rural adults are 2.8 times more likely to visit an emergency department with a toothache than metropolitan adults," Dr Goode said.
She said while staff at Bendigo’s Emergency Department will treat patients with antibiotics and painkillers that relieve the pain in the short term, the lack of dentists working there means no definitive treatment can be offered and the pain will usually come back again unless the tooth is treated.
"Overseas up to 20% of people who attend the ED with a toothache attend again with a toothache within six months. Most patients will end up at the dentist eventually," Dr Goode said.
"It’s common for people to self-manage their toothache with over the counter painkillers, sometimes with left over prescription pain killers or antibiotics, which is far from ideal."
The research will provide important information on why people attend the Emergency Department and, by better understanding their journey, Dr Goode says it may be possible to help them access definitive care more directly.
"Listening to the stories of people who have been to the Emergency Department in Bendigo with a toothache, knocked or broken tooth will help us to understand their toothache journey, why they chose the Emergency Department for care and how their tooth problem was eventually resolved - if it was," Dr Goode said.
Adults who have at any time been to the Bendigo Emergency Department with a toothache, chipped or broken tooth are invited to participate in the research. More information is available by texting or calling Dr Goode on 0450 328 088.
"The question that needs to be answered is do patients go to the Emergency Department because it is free, because they cannot access a dentist, because they are too afraid of the dentist, because it was convenient or perhaps because that is where they always go?" Dr Goode asked.