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Emergency Dental Care: What is Considered an Emergency?

Updated on June 17, 2022
Lara Coseo
Written by Alyssa Hill
Medically Reviewed by Lara Coseo

What is Emergency Dental Care?

A dental emergency can include anything from unexpected and severe pain caused by a large cavity, a knocked-out tooth, or a broken tooth.

Emergency dentists are available in every U.S. state to handle these situations.  

Most dentists offer services during normal office hours, typically five days a week.

Emergency dentists offer extended business hours, which most likely includes evenings and weekends.  They also provide on-call services during hours that the office is closed. 

Emergency dentists will usually try to schedule same-day appointments for emergency patients. 

What is Considered a Dental Emergency?

If you develop any of the following dental problems or symptoms, you may qualify for emergency dentistry: 

Eighty-eight percent of emergency dental procedures could have been prevented with routine oral health care. The best way to avoid emergency dental treatment is to visit your dentist for regular exams, x-rays, and teeth cleanings. 

When is a Dental Abscess an Emergency?

Because it is difficult to predict how a dental infection will spread, it is best to assume that any tooth abscess is an emergency.

Any visible swelling in the gums, whether it causes pain or not, could be dangerous, and you should seek urgent dental care. 

The goal of emergency treatment is to stop the spread of the infection. This will typically involve prescription antibiotics. In severe cases, it can involve intravenous antibiotics and a procedure called an incision and drainage in which a surgeon “opens” the swelling to allow the pus to drain out. This relieves pressure and reduces pain.

When is a Toothache an Emergency?

A toothache is considered a dental emergency if:

  • It lasts longer than a few days
  • It becomes more severe over time 
  • There is inflammation, swelling, or bleeding around the tooth that is causing pain in the jaw, ear, or cheek
  • You also have a fever or earache

When is Emergency Wisdom Tooth Removal Necessary?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of impacted wisdom teeth, you may be in need of emergency dental care. If your teeth are impacted, the oral surgeon will not be able to perform a simple extraction; they will need to perform a surgical extraction. 

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.

How To Find An Emergency Dentist 

A reliable way to find an emergency dentist in your area is by using the American Dental Association's (ADA) dentist locator tool. According to the ADA, many dentists leave time open during the day for emergency walk-in patients. This means you may be able to get same-day emergency care. 

Many general dentists offer emergency dental services.

You can call any dentist office in your area and ask them whether they offer these services. However, it is important to keep in mind that some dentists only accept appointments for life-threatening dental conditions. 

If you need emergency dental care on the weekend or during a holiday, you can still try calling your dentist. If you do not get a response, they may provide a voicemail message that provides instructions for dental emergencies. 

What To Do Before Your Emergency Dental Appointment

There are a few ways to reduce pain before your emergency dentist appointment if you are experiencing bleeding, swelling, or inflammation. These tips include:

  • Rinsing your mouth with warm water
  • Applying pressure to the affected or injured area to reduce bleeding and swelling
  • Applying a cold compress to the injured area in 20-minute intervals. This will help minimize swelling and bleeding. 
  • For a toothache, take over-the-counter pain relievers, apply an ice pack, and rinse your mouth with warm saltwater to reduce pain 

When To Visit The Hospital (Emergency Room)

Other risk factors associated with dry sockets include:

  • Poor oral care — neglecting oral care during the healing process can result in a dry socket
  • Teeth or gum infections If you have an infection near the extraction site (e.g., cavities or gum disease), you have an even higher chance of developing a dry socket
  • Taking oral contraceptives — if you take birth control pills or have high estrogen levels during the healing process, you are more likely to develop a dry socket
  • Tobacco use and smokingnicotine, cigarettes, and tobacco can slow down or interrupt the healing process
  • Previous dry socket — if you had a dry socket in the past, you are more likely to develop one again

Paying For Urgent Dental Care

Depending on whether you have dental insurance or not, an emergency appointment can be expensive. However, some dentists may offer payment plans. 

You can also check out other low-cost dental care options, including government dental clinics, dental school services, charity dental clinics, and discount dental plans. Learn more about affordable emergency treatment options here. 

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. 

Last updated on June 17, 2022
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on June 17, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. American Dental Association (ADA), “What Constitutes a Dental Emergency?” https://www.ada.org/resources/practice
  2. “Search for ADA Member Dentists – Find a Dentist near Me.” Search for ADA Member Dentists – Find a Dentist near Me | American Dental Association, findadentist.ada.org/?_ga=2.21663547.1269264094.1592781444-1245606453.1583348246.
  3. Medical Emergencies in the Dental Office: Response Guide. American Dental Association, 2018.
  4. Down, Jim, and V Mitchell. “Wisdom Tooth Extraction under General Anaesthesia.” Hospital Medicine, vol. 61, no. 12, 2000, pp. 876–876., doi:10.12968/hosp.2000.61.12.1494.
  5. Sakkas, Nikolaos, et al. “Orbital Abscess after Extraction of a Maxillary Wisdom Tooth.” British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, vol. 45, no. 3, 2007, pp. 245–246., doi:10.1016/j.bjoms.2005.09.010.
  6. Singh, Nishi, et al. “Wisdom Tooth—Complications in Extraction.” The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice, vol. 15, no. 1, 2014, pp. 34–36., doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10024-1484.
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