Salt Lake City Dentist Blog
What constitutes a dental emergency? In our office it includes toothaches, injuries to the mouth, abscesses, and even a chipped front tooth that is embarrassing. Our patients decide. If you think it's an emergency and requires urgent dental care, that's how we're going to handle it.
This week the New York Times had an article describing the problem with emergency dental patients seeking care at hospital emergency rooms rather than dental offices or clinics. Most emergency room physicians do not have the training or available equipment to accurately diagnose dental pain. The article reports that most emergency room physicians will see at least 10 dental emergencies a week. More often than not they are only able to provide a prescription for pain medication or an antibiotic. This presents a problem because patients that are addicted to pain medication can go to an emergency room and say they have a toothache. The physician has no way to confirm that they actually have a problem and so the patient may be given addictive pain medication unnecessarily to deal with the patient's addiction not to address a real dental problem.
Today I had an interesting emergency dental patient. This patient came in with severe swelling of his left cheek. His lower eyelid was swollen. So much that his eye was almost swollen shut. This condition is called cellulitis or an abscess. In this area of the face there are veins that don't have very good valves and they allow blood to flow in both directions. One of the directions leads to the brain. So it is possible for this type of infection to actually spread to a patient's brain. Untreated it can be life-threatening. We drained the infection by beginning a root canal. I expect that this patient's swelling and pain will resolve in a couple of days and then we can complete the treatment on this tooth and things will turn out just fine.
This past week NPR on "All Things Considered" aired the following story. The moderator and guest poke fun at the disparity between dentists when interpreting x-rays and suggest that the diagnosis of a cavity is done solely for financial gain. This is dangerous journalism. Many people die each year from untreated cavities. Many more miss work and school from pain and infection caused by untreated cavities. Cavities are progressive and advancing diseases that left untreated lead to more complex and expensive treatment with more potential for unexpected, life-affecting, and life-threatening outcomes. Ignoring a cavity is unwise.
Toothaches and abscessed teeth can be nearly impossible to ignore and your best bet is to see an emergency dentist as soon as possible. However, sometimes it can be difficult to make arrangements to be seen right away. So what can you do?
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