Emergency dental care – ER or dental office?
When your tooth hurts more than you can bear, you want to get rid of the pain as quickly as possible. The most important step to take is to get it checked out by a health care professional. It is at this point that the sufferer of severe tooth pain finds themselves in a dilemma. Should you go immediately to the ER, or should you get an appointment at the dental office? There are many factors to be considered in making this decision, such as time and cost, and of course the nature of the condition that is causing the severe toothache. If the condition is serious enough for the ER, you should go in any case, regardless of the time or cost involved. If the condition is extremely painful but not life threatening, you have the option of taking painkillers and waiting until your dental appointment for your dentist to treat your teeth and remove the cause of the pain. In both cases, you need to know how to make the decision.
ER versus dental office: a comparison
The tricky thing about going to your dentist is that there may not be an opening available straightaway, not even as a walk-in. When we compare ER to a dental office, we will be considering an emergency care dental practice that will be able to accommodate you at short notice. If your dental problem is not an emergency, you can proceed with a regularly scheduled dental office visit instead.
Here are the factors to consider while choosing between the ER and the dental practice for your dental problem:
- Going to the ER doesn’t mean a shorter time in the waiting room: While going to the ER may appear to be the quicker option, the truth of the matter is that showing up to the ER with a severe toothache is not going to get you looked at any faster. The only people who get attention immediately upon arriving at the ER are the life-and-death cases. Severe as your toothache is, you will still be required to wait a long time until your turn to be seen. If you can wait until the dentist will see you, then it is probably not worth your time to go to the ER.
- The ER may not be equipped to carry out the particular dental procedure you need: Even if you are prepared to wait in the ER, there is no guarantee that they will be able to solve your dental problem. There are many different treatments for the different kinds of dental problems, and the ER is more directed towards handling medical cases as compared to dental ones. That said, if your dental emergency is very severe, it is a good idea to go to the ER. Even if they are not able to solve your problem completely, they will be able to help you manage the pain.
- Dental treatments in the ER are more expensive than at your dentist’s office: In the situation where the ER is equipped to treat your dental problem, the co-pay will be higher than your usual co-pay at the dentist’s office. Keep this in mind if you know your condition is not life threatening and you can find a dental practice to see you as soon as possible.
Cases in which a dental problem should be taken to the ER
There are some cases in which getting immediate medical attention is the best course of action, and you should go to the ER as soon as possible. These cases are:
- Broken tooth: If an accident or physical trauma causes one or more teeth to be chipped or fractured, you should get it checked out at the ER. They will take X rays to check the extent of the damage and make sure there is no piece of the broken tooth lodged anywhere in your mouth.
- Dislodged tooth: If a tooth comes out of its socket after a blow or physical injury, put the tooth in a container of milk, or if milk is not easily available, water. Then go to the ER. Do not scrub or wash the tooth. It may be that in favorable circumstances, the tooth can be reinserted into its socket by medical professionals and it may reattach in the process of healing. Even if the tooth is not in a condition to be reinserted, you should still get it checked out in order to see whether any piece of the broken tooth is still in your mouth, or if there is a fracture.
- Missing filling or crown: If you cannot find your filling or crown after it has been dislodged due to a blow, fall or other physical force, go to the ER. It may be that the filling or crown is stuck in your body somewhere, and they will check for this thoroughly in the ER. There is danger of the filling or crown to be stuck in the airway or the digestive system. This should be ruled out by medical health care professionals to ensure that there is nothing stuck in your system.
- Advanced dental infection: When a tooth infection spreads in the surrounding tissues to the extent that it begins to spread in the tissues of the neck and the neck swells up, this is known as Ludwig’s angina. If this is not treated, it can block the airway and obstruct breathing. Therefore, in the case of an advanced dental infection associated with facial or neck swelling, it is a good idea to go to the ER and get it under control before it develops further. Advanced dental infections can be dangerous, so do not delay. These infections require drainage of the infection as well as administration of antibiotics.
In the process of deciding whether or not to go to the ER, consider all the factors and make the wisest choice. Remember, it is better to err on the side of caution, so if you are not sure about the status of your dental problem, it is better to go to the ER instead of waiting until the problem gets worse.