Why to avoid the ER for Dental Emergencies


The Frugal Dad, an online blog dedicated to frugal living and education, has created an excellent infographic on this topic.

This year, over 800,000 Americans will end up in the ER for a dental emergency. That number continues to rise each year, and it’s costing a fortune.

Florida alone charged $88 million for the 115,000 dental-related emergency room visits in 2010. That averages to $765 per visit, and in a vast majority of cases, they were not able treat the cause of the problem. So on top of a $765 ER bill, the patient was referred to a dentist, where they likely spent a few hundred more dollars for treatment.

ER visits cost MUCH more than a dental exam

One reason many Americans put off regular dental check-ups and cleanings is the rising cost of healthcare (and dental care) in America. Only half of American workers receive dental benefits from their employer, and that number is dropping every year. This has resulted in more and more people opting to forego preventative care in exchange for problem-focused visits, such as a toothache or chipped tooth.

Preventative dental care is an investment against these costly emergencies. One trip to the emergency room could cost as much as several years of regularly scheduled dental exams. Spending that kind of money in a single visit that provided little-to-no relief can be extremely frustrating and strain your finances.

Only a dentist can perform dentistry

This one seems like a no-brainer, but many people don’t realize that in most states it is illegal for anyone other than a dentist to pull a tooth, fill a cavity, or perform any restorative dental care. Finding an emergency room with a dentist on staff or on call is extremely rare.

Emergency room doctors can’t do much more than provide antibiotics and/or painkillers. This may provide temporary relief, but toothaches, like most problems, don’t fix themselves. You will still need to see a dentist to fix the problem.

How to temporarily remedy the pain

The internet is full of suggestions (including many myths) about how to care for a toothache. Depending on your specific problem, some methods may work better than others. Generally speaking, here’s what we recommend:

  • Brush and floss your teeth to remove food fragments on and in-between your teeth. Rinse with warm water.
  • You may take aspirin for the pain, should NOT put an aspirin or any other painkiller directly against the gums near the aching tooth. This can burn and cause damage to the gum tissue.
  • Call a dentist to set up an appointment as soon as possible.
  • It is important to understand that toothache pain may temporarily subside, but will usually return until the underlying problem has been addressed.

When you SHOULD visit the emergency room

If you experience trauma to the face that has caused severe swelling, cuts inside or around the mouth, or a broken jaw, you should go to the emergency room before visiting the dentist.

If you have an untreated infection for several weeks, you may want to consider a visit to the emergency room or an urgent care medical center. Although it is extremely rare, an untreated infection can become life threatening. This can be easily prevented by taking antibiotics. Aside from the risk of your infection spreading, leaving a toothache untreated can quickly develop in to larger problems requiring more expensive treatment.

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Categorised in: Emergency Dentistry