When Do You Need to See an Emergency Dentist?

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If you're having a problem with a tooth at night, over a weekend or during a public holiday, your own dentist's clinic may be closed. During these times, you can try to find emergency dental services. Some hospitals run emergency clinics, and some dentists have an out-of-hours service. While it's sometimes obvious that you need immediate dental treatment, you may be able to wait until your dentist opens again in other cases. How can you judge if you need emergency dental care?

What Kind of Problem Do You Have?

Some dental problems don't require emergency treatment, even if they are uncomfortable or painful. For example, if you have a simple toothache or have chipped off a bit of filling or tooth, it may be best to wait until your dentist's clinic reopens to get treatment.

However, some problems do require more immediate attention. For example, if you have a root canal infection, you may have a dental abscess. If this kind of infection is very advanced, your face may become swollen, you may have a temperature or the pain may spread over other areas of your face. In this instance, emergency root canal treatment or a prescription of antibiotics to help manage the infection before you have treatment may be a good idea.

It's also definitely worth seeking emergency treatment if you knock out a tooth. While you may not be in much pain and may feel that there is no point seeking emergency care, seeing a dentist as soon as you can after losing the tooth could help you save the tooth. Dentists can re-implant teeth; however, this works best if the tooth is put back into place within 30 minutes of losing it.

Tip: You don't typically need to see a dentist on an emergency basis if your child loses a baby tooth. Dentists don't re-implant baby teeth, so there is no urgency there. The exception would be if your child's gum bleeds heavily and you can't stop the bleeding or if your child is in extreme pain.

How Bad Is the Pain?

The level of pain may also dictate whether you need out-of-hours treatment. For example, a regular toothache can often be managed with over-the-counter painkillers; you may be able to manage a tooth that is a bit sensitive because you've chipped it or lost some filling by being careful not to eat on the tooth and to avoid very hot or cold food or drink.

In some cases, dental pain levels can be very severe. The pain of an abscess can be debilitating, as can the pain of a dry socket, a problem that sometimes develops after a tooth extraction. If painkillers don't touch your tooth pain or if it gets progressively worse over a short period of time, it may be worth seeking emergency dental advice.

How Long Must You Wait to See Your Dentist?

You also need to consider how long you'll have to wait before you can make an appointment to see your dentist before you decide whether to go for emergency treatment. If you only have a short wait, say if your problem develops at night and you can call your dentist the next morning, you may be able to live with your pain or discomfort for a few hours. If your pain starts on a Friday night and you won't be able to see your dentist until the following Monday, then you may want to consider finding an emergency dentist over the weekend.