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Where Should I Go for a Dental Emergency?

Man with took pain, needing a nearby emergency dentist

Where should you go for a dental emergency—to an urgent care center near you, a dentist, your primary care doctor, or a hospital emergency room (ER)? If you do not have a current dentist or dental insurance, you may feel that your choices are limited. We will explain what to expect depending on where you choose to go for a dental emergency. And we will define a dental emergency and when you must seek care right away. Also, we will give you tips on how you can make dental care more affordable.

Can You Go to the Hospital ER for Dental Emergencies?

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), about two million American adults go to a hospital emergency room for non-traumatic dental care. If you choose to go to the ER for a dental emergency, what can you expect?

  • The American Dental Association confirms that most hospitals are not equipped to handle dental emergencies. Hospitals do not have dental equipment, tools, facilities, or staff to address your dental emergency.
  • The emergency room staff may give you antibiotics or pain reliever to treat the symptoms of your problem.
  • An ER doctor will recommend that you see a dentist for follow-up care.

What About Going to Urgent Care for a Dental Emergency?

Unless you go to an urgent care facility at a nearby university’s dental school, your experience will be about the same as visiting the ER. What can you expect from a neighborhood urgent care for your dental emergency?

  • The facility cannot x-ray your tooth to determine the cause of your pain. Nor are they equipped to treat your tooth.
  • You may receive a prescription for an antibiotic or a pain reliever. Or the staff may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Ultimately, the urgent care team will ask you to see a local dentist.

What Will Your Primary Care Doctor Do for Your Dental Emergency?

Although your primary care doctor may examine your tooth, they cannot x-ray, diagnose, or treat it. Like the emergency room or an urgent care facility, your doctor will refer you to a dentist for treatment. If you do not have a dentist, your doctor can recommend one.

How Much Does a Dental Emergency Cost?

The cost of a dental emergency depends on the type of emergency and where you go for care. An annual report published by America’s Health Rankings notes that people who do not have dental insurance are less likely to go to the dentist. But going to an emergency room or urgent care facility can be more costly than seeing a dentist.

Consider the average ER costs vs. dental costs. And remember, after you go to the ER, you will still need to see a dentist.

ER visit

  • ER visit with insurance: $50
  • ER visit without insurance: $200

Dental visit

  • Dental visit with insurance: No fee – $30
  • Dental visit without insurance: $100-$150 for a checkup and exam, which are preventive care that can keep you out of the ER. But fees at a dental school or clinic are lower or free.

Additional Fees for Dental Care

An infected tooth, tooth decay, or another issue might be the reason you sought emergency dental care. After diagnosing the issue, you will have additional fees from a dentist to treat your tooth. But remember, the ER, an urgent care team, and your medical doctor cannot resolve the issue with your tooth. The dentist will explain your treatment fees.

Although your discomfort or pain might make you think you have a dental emergency, it might not be an emergency after all.

What Is a Dental Emergency?

A dental emergency is a condition that requires a dentist’s immediate care. Without treatment, the problem might increase the risk of infection, severe bleeding, or progressive trauma to your mouth or teeth. Below are some examples of dental emergencies.

Dental emergency examples

The ADA published a document that defines dental emergencies, urgent dental issues, and non-emergency dental events. Below are some reasons to see a dentist right away:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Pain and swelling in your mouth
  • Persistent tooth or jaw pain
  • Broken or knocked-out tooth
  • Broken wire on your braces that pokes your gums or cheeks
  • Loose dental implant

For details, read the documents, What Constitutes a Dental Emergency? and What Is a Dental Emergency?, published by the American Dental Association.

What If You Cannot Afford a Dentist?

If you cannot afford a dentist, you can look for one who offers payment plans or an in-office dental discount plan. Or, if you have no money at all for dental care, look for a dental school or dental clinic in your area. They offer discounted or free care. For more information on a specific issue, read our post Please Recommend a Home Remedy for My Tooth Infection.


Unless you have severe trauma to your mouth or teeth, a hospital emergency room, urgent care center, or your medical doctor is not the place to go. They are limited in their ability to help you. And they will refer you to a dentist. See a dentist right away. Most dentists are willing to work with your budget so you can pay for care over time. Also, a dental school or dental clinic can help.


Jerry Woolf, DDS of Bakersfield, CA, sponsors this post. If you live near Bakersfield and think you have a dental emergency, Woolf Dental is near you. Call us now and we will see you today. And we have options to help you pay for care.