Monday, April 20, 2009

California Recession Leads More Patients to Public Dental Clinics

More patients will be turning to California public hospital emergency rooms as the state's dental care program for poor adults ends July 1, 2009.

In the meantime, they can be seen in California's public health clinics.

Working, but without dental insurance, a 20-year-old Vallejo man was in such pain from a bad tooth he rushed to a hospital emergency room.

Referred to the county dental clinic, the man could not open his mouth, and was probably within days of dying from an infection, said Dr. Franklin Woo, who had him admitted into a hospital.

With such patients a regular occurrence, the dental clinic is on the front lines of the recession's fall-out, said Woo, the county's chief of dental services.

With the economic downturn, the county clinic is seeing an influx of people who have lost their jobs, health insurance and homes, and need dental services, Woo said.

"We have no way to meet the demand," said Lynn Bramwell, county family health services administrator.

Some say they have nowhere else to go since most private dentists won't see them unless they pay for services up front, Woo said.

There has been a dramatic increase in dental patients in severe pain, with cheeks swollen to the size of oranges, who are referred from emergency rooms, he said.

Two years ago, the clinic got one patient every two or three months referred from a hospital emergency room. But, these days, at least two or three come in every day, Woo said.

But while the demand is growing, the clinic is at capacity and must refer patients to private dentists or put them on a waiting list, Bramwell said.

California public dentistry for poor adults is uncertain at best
. Even if federal economic stimulus dollars are available for a temporary fix will the California economy be able to sustain the costs in the out years?

Stay tuned......

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