Should I Go to a Hospital or a Dentist for My Dental Emergency?

Not all dental problems rise to the level of an emergency

medical professionals looking at woman's mouth
Janie Airey/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

Dental emergencies can occur at any time. Often, people are unsure whether they should go to a hospital or a dentist for a dental emergency. 

The answer actually varies. Like other medical emergencies, dental emergencies require different levels of care, depending on their severity. Where you go for treatment when you have a dental emergency depends on the type of emergency you have. 

When to Head to the Hospital

Dental emergencies or traumas involving the face and mouth that require immediate medical attention include jaw fractures, jaw dislocations, serious cuts or lacerations to the face and mouth, or an abscess or infection that is very swollen or affecting your breathing or swallowing.

These are situations where you'd want to call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room. Don't wait for the dentist's office to handle a potentially life-threatening condition. 

When to See the Dentist

There are other dental emergencies that are not considered life-threatening but that still may require immediate care.

If you crack or break a tooth (such as while eating something crunchy) or you get a tooth knocked out, unless it's causing a lot of bleeding or happened as a result of a violent injury (like being punched in the face), you can probably wait for the dentist to handle these.

And while the pain of a decayed or abscessed tooth may be serious, unless it's affecting your ability to breathe or swallow, it probably doesn't rise to the level of an emergency.

Dental Abscesses and Medical Treatment

If the discomfort from a decayed tooth includes sensitivity to hot and cold foods, that generally does not signal a serious problem.

The sensitivity may be caused by a small decay, a loose filling, or by minimal gum recession that exposes small areas of the root surface.

Try using toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. Brush up and down with a soft brush; brushing sideways wears away exposed root surfaces. If this is unsuccessful after several days, see your general dentist.

When to See an Endodontist

If the problem causing you tooth pain is pulp tissue damage, your dentist may send you to an endodontist. Endodontists specialize in pulp-related procedures. Your endodontist will perform a procedure that cleans out the damaged pulp and fills and seals the remaining space. You've probably heard of this procedure: it's more commonly known as a root canal.

When Your Dentist Isn't Available

Dental emergencies do not always occur at an ideal time of day (as if there is one). If the dental emergency occurs during non-business hours, on a weekend, or a holiday — and it is not considered life-threatening — always try calling your dentist before perusing alternative care options.

Many dentists provide their patients with after hours emergency care or an on-call substitute recommendation.

In cases where a dentist is not able to see you after hours, but you still require treatment from a medical professional, go to the nearest care facility in your area. 

Continue Reading