If you have a family dentist, you’re part of a fortunate group in the United States. Unlike many people, you’re privy to valuable insights into dental health; during regular cleanings, your dentist can advise you on the importance of flossing, how your lifestyle can affect your teeth, and so much more. Your dentist has all kinds of good advice, and you should be listening.
Unfortunately, considering how little time most people spend dwelling on their oral health, even those with a family dentist may not know what to do in the event of an emergency. For example, what happens if you chip a tooth or your crown falls off during a holiday or on a Sunday and you’re in pain? Who should you call? Many people find that their first instinct is to head to the emergency room, but any dentist will tell you to avoid this route whenever possible.
The Growth Of Emergency Room Dentistry
Emergency room-based dental care has been on the rise in recent years as part of our national dental care crisis. Unable to afford conventional dental care, people flood into emergency rooms when the pain becomes overwhelming because emergency rooms are required to render care. However, you’re unlikely to get comprehensive care if you go to the emergency room. They might drain an abscess or give some pain medication, but ultimately, they’re not equipped to provide dental care.
Doctors aren’t trained to perform dental work – it’s a different field of study and a different degree. That’s why, when patients arrive in the ER with a dental issue, they’ll receive only the bare minimum of care and then be told to see a dentist. Lack of access to preventative dental care only compounds the problem, making it more likely that oral health issues will escalate before they’re treated. A cavity becomes an infection that requires extraction; a chip becomes a crack that runs all the way through the tooth.
Finding Emergency Care
If you’re not supposed to go to the ER for dental care, what should you do? The best option, of course, is to seek out an emergency dental care provider. Use key search terms for your area, to find an emergency care provider; if you’re looking for a dentist in OKC, for example, you can search for those terms, as well as keywords like “emergency,” “extended hours,” or “same day” to find a professional taking emergent cases.
If you’re having a hard time finding an emergency dentist in your area – a common problem, especially for those in rural areas – it’s worth considering whether the situation can wait. While dental pain can be severe, in most cases, it’s not a crisis the way a broken limb may be. If you are going to head to the emergency room, focus on the pain. Asking the emergency room to perform dental care that they aren’t qualified to do is just asking for additional problems, and will be expensive.
Is The ER Ever Appropriate?
Though you should typically avoid the emergency room for dental care, there are a few times when seeking immediate attention is appropriate. In particular, you should go to the hospital if you have an oral abscess or infection that is making it hard to breathe or swallow, or if you have a serious injury in the area of your mouth, such as a broken jaw, jaw dislocation, or large cuts to your mouth or face. In these cases, the issue is not fundamentally a dental one and ignoring the problem could lead to long-term functional limitations, sepsis, or other serious issues.
Getting routine dental care through a community dentist is the best way to avoid an emergency, even if the cost of a check-up seems like a lot. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – or, a few hundred dollars in preventative dental work is worth thousands in emergency room bills.