FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Dental problems are the second most common reason people show up at the Frederick Memorial Hospital emergency room.
Preventive care and better health programs could help reduce those visits, according to the president-elect of the Maryland Dental Association.
Dr. Richard Rogers, whose office is in Frederick, will serve a three-year term, from president-elect to president, then immediate past president, all with distinct duties within the state association.
Rogers will focus on legislative issues, including emergency room diversion, a fight to provide free medication for needy patients and third-party inspections for dental equipment that uses radiation.
Rogers, who will represent about 2,400 members of the state association, was president of the Frederick County Dental Association in 1995.
In the last decade, ER visits for dental problems in the U.S. have increased from 1.1 million a year to more than 2 million, he said, and ER physicians do not have dental training.
"If there is a real trauma, like a car accident, they will call in a dental surgeon," he said. "But most of the time they give the patient prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medicine."
Many ER patients have limited incomes and will buy only pain medicine when they really need antibiotics as well, he said.
"Some people will go to the ER and say they have dental problems, and the physicians will simply give them the prescriptions and tell them to see their dentist. Those people just want the pain medicine prescription."
This takes a toll on health care costs. The Affordable Care Act does not include dental care, and Rogers said most dentists are simply waiting to see how the policy works out before stepping in.
"Medicaid money for dental is down," he said. "Many company insurance plans don't include dental, and many people just can't afford to see a dentist regularly."
The association is trying to do something about that. As part of its Emergency Room Diversion program, Rogers will be working with Mike Spurrier at the Frederick Community Action Agency and looking for grants to help pay for dental care.
"Mike can screen people for income eligibility and the next day, schedule them for a dental visit," Rogers said.
A number of local dentists are ready to help with the program, accepting lower payment for services, he said.
"You will see a sizable impact on the ER visits."
The dental association is fighting a push by the pharmacology industry to restrict how much medicine the association can give to patients free of charge, Rogers said.
"We can only give enough medicine for 72 hours," Rogers said. "When we do pro bono work, we should be able to give the person what they need for a longer period of time before we have to give them a prescription. This is a legislative hot topic."
Rogers will also focus on required inspections of radiation equipment by the state's Department of the Environment. With rapidly changing technology, the state cannot keep up, he said.
The association is pushing for the use of third-party inspectors who are familiar with the equipment and can calibrate it properly, Rogers said. Dentists would still pay a flat fee to the state for each X-ray machine.
A native of Wichita, Kan., Rogers said his dentist was a role model and encouraged him to enter the field.
"In summers while in college, I would come home and observe the dentist at work," he said. "And I have always been interested in the political side of the profession."
Rogers graduated from Notre Dame and Georgetown Dental School, then served in the U.S. Navy. He served three years active duty and 12 years in the Naval Reserve. He spent his active service at the Navy's Great Lakes recruit training base, where there are more than 120 dentists.
"We send people out on submarines and ships that have little or no medical service, so we have to make sure they are ready to spend that time at sea before they go," he said. "If you have a toothache, you can't fight. Dental health is important."
A commander at the naval base knew dentists in Frederick and recommended Rogers to fill the gap when one of them left. Rogers opened his Frederick office in 1989.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com