Urgent care or dental emergency? FAQs

4th August 2021 | Posted by: Vanessa Giraud

woman in pink top needs urgent care

The three categories of dental care for triage

Dentists around the country are still having to prioritise different levels of dental treatment. We know how frustrating it is for patients who want to access routine and oral health care. After the coronavirus pandemic shutdown and subsequent changes to operating procedures for dentists in the UK, our working procedures have changed significantly. Now, as a result of both the pandemic and Brexit, there is a shortage of dentists around England. 

Last year, as you know, examinations were postponed. This means there wasn’t the usual influx of newly qualified dentists. Moreover, more experienced dentists did not renew their registration, or had to reduce their hours, because of the difficult working conditions. On top of that, Brexit has made it difficult for our talented colleagues from the EU to apply for jobs. 

The aim of this post is to help patients understand the different levels of dental care. What is a dental emergency? When is a concern urgent? And what is classed as routine care? We hope the information below is helpful.

In addition, we encourage patients to follow rigorous oral health procedures at home. Regular brushing and flossing really does make a significant difference.

Most of all, we’d like to reassure you we’re here if you need urgent treatment. We don’t want people to suffer from dental pain and do our very best to see priority patients.

We also ask you to be understanding of the problems dental teams around the country are experiencing.

Is my dental problem an emergency?

Of the three dental treatment categories (emergency, urgent and routine) a patient with an emergency should try to see a clinician within an hour, in an emergency care facility. Most cases that require emergency treatment result from trauma to the face or mouth. Some are post-surgical.

Emergency conditions are:


It is an emergency. What do I do?

Emergency dental care is provided by the NHS and facilities designated to provide emergency care. If you think the condition is life-threatening call the emergency services. Otherwise use the NHS 111 online service for advice and instruction. If that is not possible, then call 111.

In addition, dental practices and GP surgeries use answerphone messages to provide information outside working hours that can help you find appropriate care.


Is my problem urgent?

Patients with a condition categorised as urgent need to seek advice for self-help or treatment within 24 hours, whenever possible.

Urgent conditions are:

It is urgent. What do I do?

Dentists prioritise urgent care, and always do their best to accommodate patients who need help that is not categorised as an emergency.

If you email or call, our team can offer advice and direction. Out of hours, there’s an answer phone message. This is particularly useful if you’re on a payment plan at your dentist that includes appropriate emergency cover.


Is my problem routine?

Routine care treats a problem that is not a pressing need. The time for routine care is more flexible. It means the patient can manage until s/he can attend an appointment with a qualified clinician. Under usual circumstances, patients are advised to contact their dentist and book an appointment as soon as possible.

As dentists around the UK manage requests for care, appointments are allocated according to the level of need. Patients may need to do more to manage their condition themselves and cope for a longer period of time before they can see a dentist in person.

Please remember, though, to be very careful with online remedies and non-prescription drugs. It’s important not to damage your teeth, mouth or your general health further.

Routine conditions are:

Routine dental problems include the following conditions. It is necessary, although not urgent, to seek advice from a health professional who can assess your case. During this time, advice will usually begin with self-help measures, and a recommendation to access appropriate restorative treatment when feasible.

It is routine. What do I do?

At this time, advice for dental problems is available by calling most dentists. A clinician or qualified health professional will be available during working hours to give you advice on how to manage your condition until your dental practice opens again.


How can I manage my toothache?

Most routine problems can be helped by one or several of the following:

Can my dentist help?

SpaDental has an Advice and Triage service. We are available to answer your calls, emails and online enquiries. Our aim is to offer you advice to help you manage conditions that are routine or even urgent, until you can see a dentist. If appropriate we may direct you to an emergency facility in your local area.

For your convenience, here is a list of previous articles written about common problems people ask about. They share advice on preventing, managing and resolving dental problems.

People also ask:

POSTED IN: Covid-19, Emergency


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