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Dentist or ER? What to Know Before a Dental Emergency

Dental Office
Sudden and serious mouth pain can ruin your day. What should you do when a dental dilemma gets serious? Before you rush to the emergency room, take a look at why you should visit the dentist instead and what you can do to prevent a similar situation from happening again.
How Many Dental Patients Visit the ER?
If you seek emergency dental treatment from a hospital ER, you aren't alone. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people who chose emergency medical treatment for dental issues rose from 1.1 million to 2.1 million, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
The patients with the greatest likelihood of choosing an ER over a dentist's office are uninsured adults ages 19 to 34. But that doesn't mean other people don't also choose ER treatment as a primary method for emergency dental care. Whether you have an accidental injury that happens on the weekend or have health insurance but not dental insurance, the ER may seem like the sensible way to go.
What Are the Disadvantages of Going to the ER for Dental?
Simply stated, most hospital ERs aren't equipped to handle dental emergencies. Your dentist has specialized training in oral issues, including diseases and injuries of the teeth, gums, interior of the mouth, and jaw. While an ER doctor has extensive training in medicine, they typically don't have the same level of mouth-specific knowledge that your dentist does.
According to the ADA, 1.65 million ER visits could receive dental clinic care. Visiting the ER for a toothache or injury may not get you the treatment you need. Depending on the problem, you may need a filling, crown, or root canal. These types of repairs require a dentist and the equipment/materials in the dentist's office.
Even though the ER physician may diagnose the problem and can provide you with some pain relief (again, depending on the problem), it's likely you'll still need to see the dentist afterwards.
What Are the Advantages of Going to the Dentist?
Not only does the dentist have the knowledge, tools, and materials to treat most dental emergencies, but they also have the ability to provide ongoing follow-up care. ER departments provide immediate, emergency medical management - without the expectation that the patient will return for care.
The dentist's office may also save you time and money. A visit to the ER could take hours or longer - especially if the hospital has severely ill or injured patients to treat. Even though treatment prices vary widely (depending on geographic region, the hospital/dental office's price-points, and your insurance), hospital ER visits tend to cost more than what a trip to the dentist would.
When Should You Choose an ER for Dental Problems?
In some cases, an ER is the appropriate emergency treatment option. A serious jaw injury, a possible broken jaw/facial bone, an oral infection that causes a high fever, or other severe systemic symptoms, or other similar issues may require immediate treatment from an emergency room. If you're unsure whether to go to the ER, contact your dental or medical provider immediately.
How Can You Prevent Emergency Dental Visits?
Accidents and injuries are often unavoidable. There typically isn't anything that a patient can do to prevent a mouth injury that happens due to a slip and fall or facial impact. But you can prevent other dental issues that may cause you to seek emergency treatment.
What you eat and how you care for your mouth are major factors that contribute to your dental health. If chipped, cracked, or broken teeth are a concern, avoid hard or sticky foods, such as hard candies, or chewing on ice. Along with preventing damage, routine at-home dental care and visiting your dentist regularly can reduce the risks associated with dental disease and the associated pain.
Do you need to improve your preventative dental care routine? Contact P.A. Daniel Jr., D.D.S. for more information.