Phone & Postpone: What is considered a dental emergency?

The American Dental Association’s (ADA) newest guidelines give dentists detailed guidelines about who we should and should not see in an office setting in the midst of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Our main purpose at this time is to maintain social distancing while doing our part to keep patients out of hospital emergency rooms. For the vast majority of patients, this means “Phone & Postpone,” with a very limited number of patients getting in-person care if absolutely necessary.

Read more to find out how we as doctors will make decisions about how to treat patients with dental emergencies during this time.

Medication by Phone

For most dental infections, antibiotics and pain medication are only a short-term fix. However, they do help us to buy time. For patients who have toothaches or mild swelling that are caused by an infection, we are able to call in antibiotics and non-controlled medications to relieve symptoms until it’s safe or absolutely necessary to do an in-person treatment.

A combination of antibiotics and over the counter medications will address the majority of dental infections. Prescriptions for controlled medications (specifically opioid pain medications) must be picked up in person and will be dispensed only to existing patients and only after discussion with one of our doctors.

Postponing Non-Urgent Treatment

Here are some examples of procedures which we will be postponing for the time being:

  • New patient exams and x-rays
  • Cleanings and checkups
  • Taking out teeth that aren’t hurting
  • Fillings for cavities in teeth that aren’t hurting
  • Cosmetic procedures like bleaching and bonding

Limited In-Person Treatment Where Needed

The ADA defines dental emergencies as “are potentially life threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding [or to] alleviate severe pain or infection.”

Examples of conditions that might require in-person treatment if they don’t respond to medication:

  • Severe dental pain or swelling caused by an infection
  • Dry socket
  • Fractured or broken tooth or root
  • A tooth that has been knocked loose or completely knocked out
  • An orthodontic wire or other appliance that is broken and cutting the gums

In all cases like these, we will first try to exhaust our remote options–we will do everything we can by phone–before making a decision to bring a patient into the office.

If you have read this page and still aren’t sure where you fall, feel free to call our office. Someone will be available to answer our phones around the clock and if a call isn’t answered, we will do all we can to return it in a timely manner.

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