By Alison Majikes/Special to

Since dental benefits were cut from California’s public health insurance for the poor, Emergency Department visits shot up for dental related issues.

At least that’s according to a study published May 4 in Health Affairs, which examined ED for Medicaid-enrolled adults in California between 2006 and 2011.

An article on estimated that removing the comprehensive dental benefits from the state Medicaid program back in 2009 led to about 1,800 more emergency room visits per year.

The findings are important to the U.S. in a time where many states are expanding or considering expanding their Medicaid programs under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

“California used to provide comprehensive dental benefits for adults,” said Astha Singhal, the study’s lead author from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “During the recent economic recession they were looking for ways to cut costs and save money.”

In those six years, 113,309 adults in the state Medicaid program made 121,869 emergency room visits for dental problems.

The most common diagnosis during those visits were “other dental disease” problems within the tooth and cavities.

The study’s senior author, Dr. Peter Damiano, explains that the state’s Medicaid program likely paid for some of the care people received in the ED for dental problems because it’s often billed as a medical service.

“They’re usually giving them antibiotics and some pain killers,” said Damiano, who is from the University of Iowa Public Policy Center.

Singhal stated that since the study, California has reinstated some of the Medicaid dental benefits that were cut in 2009, but other states  are looking at possible dental benefit cuts.

“I think in this case the major takeaway is that there are unintended consequences that need to be evaluated when you make policy decisions,” said Damiano.

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