Dental Emergency, No Insurance: How to Find Affordable Care

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Overview: What is an Emergency Dentist?

An emergency dentist is any dentist who provides urgent dental treatment for patients in need. Often, a dentist advertising emergency services will offer extended business hours or weekend hours. This may include an on-call service to reach the dentist at any time of day or night. 

Typically, an emergency dentist provides a limited range of services aimed to relieve tooth pain and stop the spread of dangerous infections.

Dental discount plans might save you more than insurance.

For some patients, a dental discount plan could save you more money each year.

An emergency dentist is not a specialist. It is a dentist who chooses to offer emergency services. They may even limit the practice to only focus on treating urgent dental problems. Every dentist with a degree from an accredited dental school and a license from his or her state’s licensing board is qualified to provide emergency dental services.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many dentists around the country are offering only emergency dental services. Some general dentists have chosen to close completely and refer any patients with urgent dental problems to specialists such as oral surgeons and endodontists.

What is Considered a Dental Emergency?

A true dental emergency involves either a worsening infection or trauma. These are dental issues that require immediate treatment. 

When you know how to recognize a dental emergency, your quick response will enable you to find help fast in order to see the best possible outcome.

Dental Infections

In rare cases, dental infections can lead to death when left untreated. This occurs when the infection spreads into the airway, the bloodstream, or the brain. Bacterial infections can begin within a tooth or in the tissues surrounding a tooth. 

Regardless of where they begin, infections spread into the jawbone around the teeth. If these infections are not treated, they can spread into the tissues of the face and neck. A spreading infection is dangerous anywhere in the human body. The unique danger of dental infections is their proximity to the airway and the brain. 

It is possible for lower tooth infections to spread into the soft tissues of the floor of the mouth, leading to airway blockage. Upper tooth infections carry the potential for spreading, via a specific passage, backward into the brain. 

Dangerous infections that need immediate intervention are those that cause visible swellings inside or outside the mouth. An emergency dentist will provide antibiotic therapy and address the cause of the infection with dental treatment (typically a tooth extraction or a root canal treatment).

Trauma

Trauma to the mouth can occur during car accidents, sports injuries, or physical conflicts. If an injury to the face breaks, moves or knocks out a tooth, urgent dental care is necessary. Emergency dental treatment should only come after any other urgent problems have been addressed, such as broken bones or uncontrolled bleeding. Teeth are always second to any life-threatening situation.

A knocked-out tooth is the most urgent of these situations. When an entire tooth comes out, you have the chance of “saving” it by re-implanting it into the socket. The sooner this occurs, the better your chance that it will be successful. 

What is not Considered a Dental Emergency?

There are some situations that do not require urgent treatment and may not be worth the added expense of seeking an emergency dentist. Toothaches with no swelling that you can manage with over-the-counter pain relievers would not count as an emergency. 

A cracked or chipped tooth without pain is also not urgent. Some people suffer from mouth sores or bleeding gums. These also do not qualify for emergency dental care. 

If the condition will not get notably worse without immediate intervention, then it is not a dental emergency.

Low-Cost Dental Care Options

Consider the following options if you do not have dental coverage and need affordable dental care. This list includes various ways to receive dental treatment at reduced or no cost. You will need to search within your local area to find out which of these options are available.

  1. Dental Schools — Dental colleges offer dental treatment to patients at a fraction of the cost of private practice care. Dental students complete the treatment under the supervision of faculty.
  2. Payment Plans — Many dental offices offer payment plans for expensive dental treatment. Others have financing options for which you can apply. This allows you to make payments on your treatment over a selected length of time.
  3. Government Dental Clinics — Most metropolitan areas have dental clinics operating as a public health service. These clinics offer low-cost treatment to patients who meet the clinic’s specific criteria.
  4. Charity Dental Clinics — Many cities have charity clinics operated by nonprofit organizations or churches, providing medical and dental treatment to those in need. Dentists volunteer their time to treat patients for free.
  5. Community or Charity Events — Several organizations, such as various state dental associations, host short charity events, in which a large group of dentists come together to treat hundreds of patients within a single weekend. Check your state’s dental association website for information about such events.

How to Avoid a Dental Emergency

The only way to avoid a dental emergency caused by a dental infection is to see a dentist for evaluations with x-rays on a consistent basis. Your dentist will catch dental problems before they reach the emergency stage. 

Some trauma is unavoidable, but you can prevent trauma from sports injuries by wearing an athletic mouthguard during contact sports. 

Dental Emergency FAQs

Can I go to the ER for a dental emergency?

You can visit the Emergency Room (ER) for a dental emergency. However, the ER will only be able to treat you if the underlying condition is health-related. The ER will bill you through your health insurance, not dental insurance.

If the problem is caused by a dental condition, you will need to visit an emergency dental clinic. ER doctors can prescribe you antibiotics and pain medications until you are able to book an appointment with your dentist for treatment.

Can I get a tooth pulled at the ER?

You cannot get a tooth pulled at the Emergency Room (ER). Only licensed dentists are legally allowed and qualified to pull teeth and perform any restorative dental procedures.

How can I get free dental work?

Donated Dental Services (DDS) offers free dental work to qualified individuals in the U.S. Over 15,000 volunteer dentists and dental labs work with the DDS. There is one program in each state.

People with permanent disabilities, or those who are 65 years of age or older, may qualify for free dental work through the DDS program. Medically compromised and low-income individuals or families may also qualify for free treatment. However, people also have to meet certain criteria, including not being able to afford regular dental treatment and having no access to public aid. 

How much does it cost to get a tooth filled with no insurance?

The average cost of a filling is between $200 and $600 without insurance. However, the cost can range from $100 to $4,000 depending on the size and location of your cavity, as well as the type of filling material used.

How much does it cost to get a tooth pulled without insurance?

The average price of a simple tooth extraction without insurance ranges from $150 to $300 per tooth. Surgical extractions, such as wisdom teeth extraction, costs between $225 and $2300.

What do I do if I have a dental emergency and no insurance?

Dental savings plans, also called dental discount plans, are affordable alternatives to dental insurance. They offer discounted rates for all dental services.

With a discount dental plan, you’ll pay a monthly or annual fee (typically $100 to $200 per year) and automatically receive 10 to 60 percent savings on dental care.

Where is the cheapest place to get dental work done?

Many college dental programs around the U.S. offer discounted dental services. Dental hygiene schools (American Dental Hygienists’ Association) also offer low-cost, supervised dental care. The general public can visit these on-campus clinics to receive restorative dental work (such as fillings, crowns, and bridges) for half the cost or less of in-office treatment.

Finally, an insurance alternative that works.

In many cases, dental discount plans can replace dental insurance. It even helps pay for cosmetic procedures.

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Updated on: December 1, 2020
Author
Lara Thurman Coseo
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