24-hour dentist caters to nine-to-fivers

Issue 4

With dental-related ER visits on the rise, Dr. Norman Holtz's New York-based dental practice is available to patients at all hours.

With dental-related ER visits on the rise, Dr. Norman Holtz's New York-based dental practice is available to patients at all hours.

The light may not always be burning in the dental office operated by Dr. Norman Holtz in Lynbrook, NY, but the dentist can always be roused by a phone call or a knock on the door, no matter what time of day it is.  

Operating a 24-hour office works for Holtz because he has a home office.

“If the phone rings, I pick it up,” he said. “If there’s a knock at the door, I answer it.”

Those calls are coming more often – if the results of a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust are any indication. The study, “A Costly Dental Destination” estimated that preventable dental conditions were the main reason for 830,590 visits to the emergency room in the U.S. in 2009.

Being available at any hour day or night to handle emergencies has always been how Holtz has run his practice, which he founded in 1981.

He said he doesn’t mind the sleepless hours that usually result when he receives a late-night call for help.

“You’re either committed to what you’re doing or you’re not,” he said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have a regular dentist.”  

Over the years, Holtz said he has become the go-to person for three hospitals in his area who have his number on speed for when a patient comes to the emergency room with a dental issue.

“The emergency room gives them a Percodan and the phone number of a dentist,” he said. “They know they can send them to me. I’ve been doing this forever.”

According to the Pew study, the increase in dental-related hospital visits is due to the difficulty that disadvantaged people have in getting regular preventative care.

Holtz, too, attributes the need for emergency care to a bad economy and the financial stresses many people are feeling. He said he receives an emergency call once or twice a week.

“It’s the people who really need (a dentist) who can’t afford one,” he said.

He said his off-hour patient visits also are from people who do not work regular nine-to-five. Police officers, nurses and others who work shift jobs need to have access to a dentist at odd hours, he said. 

Nonetheless, Holtz said he sees his share of patients whose dental troubles are due to a fight or a drunken fall. They’re not always upfront about what caused their problem. It’s usually pretty easy for him to see when they are not being entirely truthful about how a tooth got loose.

“I had one guy in here who told me he broke his tooth in a fall,” he said. “And the other guy who was with him had his hand bandaged.”

Holtz said he sees it as his duty to stabilize the patient.

“I can do most any (type of procedure),” he said. “I can get the patient out of pain and stabilized.”

It’s not unusual for those patients who came in with an emergency to become regular patients.

“You treat a guy on Christmas Eve and he’ll never forget it,” Holtz said.

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