Most dental care in the U.S. is handled by dentists in private practices, but certainly not all. In 2009, for instance, more than 800,000 visits to the emergency department were for toothaches and other non-emergency dental complaints. Hospital emergency departments in Tennessee alone saw five times more dental-related visits that year than they had visits for burns [source: Tanner]. And here's the problem with that: Emergency departments don't staff dentists, nor are emergency medical teams trained in dental care. If you accidentally lose a tooth, time is crucial to preserve and re-implant it. You only have about 30 minutes, tops. But often at the ER you'll spend more time than that just sitting in the waiting room, typically more than 55 minutes. And once you're seen, the best you can expect from emergency treatment is pain medication, antibiotics and a referral to a dentist or endodontist — where you should have gone in the first place. The best thing for your tooth is to keep it in your mouth or soaking in milk (or, if you happen to have one, a tooth preservation kit), and see a dentist ASAP.
There's a second problem with visiting the ER for dental complaints. In addition to the fact that emergency physicians aren't schooled in dentistry, patients complaining of a toothache or other dental pain are typically considered risky. Emergency department teams red-flag such complaints as potential drug-seeking behavior, so not only is it unlikely your tooth will be fixed or saved, you might be suspected (or outed) as an opiate addict [source: Saint Louis].