While many dental issues are upsetting and uncomfortable, most are not life-threatening emergencies. They are generally best handled by a dentist and don't require a trip to an emergency department (ED) or urgent care facility. In these situations, these facilities primarily serve to relieve pain and do not treat underlying causes.

In fact, a recent report by the National Institutes of Health states that dental care provided in hospital emergency departments resulted in an estimated 90% of patients receiving pain medications or antibiotics without oral treatment. Patients are then referred to a dentist for care. This same report also suggested that opioid prescriptions are up to five times more likely when dental care is treated in a hospital emergency department or urgent care facility rather than a dental office, which can lead to other issues.1

If dental issues can be handled by traditional methods such as ice-packs and over-the-counter pain medications until you can see a dentist, do so. Dentists are well-equipped to stabilize most issues and develop treatment strategies to address any underlying problems. If the issue occurs after normal business hours, most dentists offer 24-hour emergency service arrangements.

  1. Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges, Executive Summary. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 2021, pg. 17.
Some dental emergencies do require immediate attention and can be life threatening. If you are experiencing a severe issue such as face, head or neck trauma, swelling that restricts your breathing, or excessive bleeding, seek urgent care or dial 911 immediately.