What can emergency dental services do for you?

Your dental emergency may require an initial visit to the emergency room, followed by an appointment with a specialist.
Your dental emergency may require an initial visit to the emergency room, followed by an appointment with a specialist.

When it comes to emergency dental services, ice hockey players have one distinct advantage: They fully expect to chip, crack or even lose a few teeth over their careers. The rest of us have to scramble when an accident happens involving our pearly whites. But the reality is that emergency dental services aren't as readily available as your neighborhood hospital emergency room or freestanding emergency center.

Even though everyone has a different pain threshold, there are times when a toothache, abscessed tooth or related dental discomfort requires immediate attention. The primary goal of the emergency dentist is to address the pain issues and make certain the injured teeth and surrounding soft tissue are stabilized, preventing further damage.

These are often "temporary" fixes, allowing enough time for a permanent repair to be performed later. For example, if a root canal is required, the emergency dentist might relieve the pain symptoms by removing nerve tissue but instruct the patient to contact his or her regular dentist for the complete procedure [source: Top Dentists Online].

So where do you turn? Well, if you already have a family dentist, the first thing to do is anticipate a potential problem (like car problems, dental issues rarely happen at opportune times), and check to see if he or she provide emergency services. Many simply don't, for a variety of reasons, including inconvenience or scheduling issues to a lack of expertise or even insurance headaches. Conversely, an emergency dentist may not have the expertise, or access to the specific tools, to make the required permanent repairs.

The key point to remember is that all emergency dentists are dentists, but not all dentists provide emergency care. It's best to find out beforehand, especially if you're a parent. Often, private-practice dentists will form loosely associated partnerships or "networks" with other practices in order to provide "on call" assistance for their patients, tethered together by an answering service. However, this won't guarantee that you'll see your specific dentist in the case of an emergency. Some large-scale dental practices may even provide an emergency specialist on staff.

There's also an increase in affiliated "emergency dentist" companies, such as Aspen Dental, 1-800-DENTIST, Emergency Dental Service and the Philadelphia-based Emergency Den+ist 24/7. These companies have offices throughout the United States and can be invaluable if you spend considerable time on the road. However, their coverage isn't complete, so you may want to check before your next business trip or family vacation.

Is your dental issue really an emergency?