Emergency Room Dentists: The High Costs of Life or Death Dental Care (Infographic)

It’s hard to believe but we seem to have forgotten about our teeth. We’ve been looking into the costs of America’s famously straight, white smiles. Instead of facts on cosmetic dentistry, we’ve come up with some troubling statistics on rapidly rising trend: emergency room dental visits. It turns out that dental care is suffering right along with general healthcare.

Our latest graphic explains the costs and causes of this overall decline in preventative care. Dental care is really an investment against future costs, but we can’t blame the uninsured for avoiding costly cleanings and checkups. It’s a costly gamble to forego dental insurance. Routine checkups at the ER will get astronomical fast, not to mention the terrifying costs behind contracting a serious dental disease or injury.

Going along with the infographic, it comes down to reform. Insurance-wise, it seems that dental costs need to be reduced in order for more employers to provide coverage. On an individual scale, it seems a more extensive dental hygiene regimen could really help Americans with or without insurance.


  1. My local community college has a school for dental hygenists. They do cleanings for $1. Of course, you can expect the experience to be even more uncomfortable than normal. Still, anyone can get a bargain on preventative care.

  2. Real eyeopener. It would be interesting to know how much is spent every year on cosmetic issues: braces, whiteners, etc. Dental care today is a far cry from my childhood: greatly reduced pain, no scary noises, cutting edge technology. My dentist and hygenist try very hard to make a visit pleasant and are always concerned about how am I doing as they go about their business in my mouth. I have used dental schools in the past (for braces and general care). I always received good treatment and like the idea that the student is learning, and there is a “real” dentist backing them up and double-checking everything.

  3. I have dental insurance now, but for many years I had to pay out of pocket. I was open with my dentist, and explained that since I had to pay out of pocket, I needed to know ahead of time what things cost. I was able to put money aside for cleanings or XRays, and when my daughter needed several fillings, he allowed me to make payments.

    I once told him I was worried that if I was in an accident, and needed major dental work and my car insurance didn’t cover everything, that I’d be up the creek, so to speak. He told me not to worry, that he would do the work and we’d worry about payments later.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is – talk to your dentist and tell him or her your circumstances. Maybe they’ll work with you. It can’t hurt to try.

  4. My husband and I are both self employed, and we have a (very) high deductible health insurance plan, and no dental or vision. We’ve looked into a number of dental insurance plans and they just don’t make sense for us financially. The benefits are so low based on the premiums for our family of 5. We work things out with our dentist on a cash basis. Dentists sure like everyone to come in every 6 months for cleanings, but my feeling is that, as long as we are all cavity free, we can stretch it to 12 months if it’s not in the budget.

  5. I’m glad to see an article like this about how dental coverage actually saves one money in the long run. In fact, a while back I wrote a “How To” article on how lowering your dental bills and in the first paragraph I included what I believe to be the best proof that dental coverage saves money, namely;

    “…National Institute of Health says that for every $1 spent on preventive dentistry (exams, x-rays, cleanings, etc.) results in savings of $4 in restorative dentistry…”

    Of course, the best dental care starts at home with daily brushing and flossing but seeing your dentist once or twice a year for a checkup and cleaning doesn’t hurt either.

  6. Frugal dentistry isn’t about getting dental insurance, it’s about buying fluoride toothpaste, floss, and new toothbrushes and using them twice a day (for at least two minutes each time, with proper technique). If you have a child, supervise and assist his or her brushing and flossing until age 10. When you do see a dentist, make sure he or she applies topical fluoride varnish (if you have to pay the $10 out of pocket, do it). Caries and periodontal disease are completely preventable in 99% of cases if you care enough day in and day out. When you’re talking teeth, it’s either time or money–put in the time and you won’t have to pay the money.

  7. It’s crazy to think that not taking proper care of your teeth can cost you that much money in the ER

  8. Not a comment on this infographic but infographics in particular. I just posted on SD that I stopped reading FD because of the infographics and thought maybe I should tell you that I used to be a regular reader and stopped when you started posting infographics for nearly every post.

  9. Hi Jason, and thank you for this putting this information out there for your readers. I will be posting it on my FB page and am thinking of how to add it into my blog.

    As a dentist, I can tell you that one comment you made early on is kind of problematic — the one that dental costs need to come down. A couple thoughts on that:
    1) Many dentists are already struggling in this economy, just like everyone else. Many have gone bankrupt, in fact, because so many people quit going to the dentist. If they cut their fees, it will only get worse.
    2) The public generally has no idea how much a dental school education costs. Did you know that many new graduates have $300-400,000 (not a typo, that is FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS) in student debt after graduation? They’re having to finance it over 30 years like a mortgage to pay it off. It’s hard to charge less when you have to pay $3,000 a month in student debt.
    3) Like everything else – inflation! With the price of gas, gold, and other metals used in dentistry going through the roof the last few years, our costs have risen too. Unless those costs go down, we can’t drop our fees.
    4) Sure we could drop fees, but the problem is that patients still want the best, especially in terms of technology. I’ve spent $55,000 this year already on new digital x-ray sensors and 2 dental microscopes to provide my patients the best treatment. I haven’t raised me fees except 1 time in 3 years, but it’s hard to keep investing to provide the best and still make a living for my own family if I dropped my fees. Which do patients want? Quality? Speed? Cost? You can generally have 2 of the 3, but getting all 3 is usually impossible. And there is yet more to come so I can do dental implants for my patients. It’s expensive to DO dentistry!

    So in closing, I understand the point about controlling dental costs, and not just insurance-related ones. I know that I strive to provide the best treatment and best technology in a comfortable, soothing environment – not a spa-like place, just as comfortable as reasonably possible. Unfortunately, it’s not cheap to do so, and I still have to provide for my family, too.

  10. Jason, let me add one other thought: most patients have no idea that the measly $1000 – 1,500 per year in benefits that they get is the same amount people got back in 1970! Seriously – ZERO CHANGE in benefits in 40 years. If patients want to complain about insurance not covering much – they need to tell their employers and insurance companies to change that. If dental benefits had kept pace with medical benefits, in that 40 years, benefits would have risen by tens of thousands and made dentistry a lot more affordable. So I’ll make it clear – don’t get mad at your dentist if insurance doesn’t cover much – it’s because of the crappy dental plans and miserable coverage.

    Just another thought – can you think of anything else that hasn’t gone up in 40 years besides dental benefits? I can’t.

  11. I’m in dental school and we had a discussion about the lack of dental access in certain communities today. I think tackling student debt and freeing students of a financial need to work in more profitable, suburban/urban areas, would be very effective. We need to mobilize the resources we have to reach out to those communities. This infographic was great- I used it in my post & included a link to your site.