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The Pros and Cons of Being an Emergency Dentist

Most dentists are not emergency dentists. They are not interested in providing emergency care and many of them refuse to see additional patients. However, although there are many obstacles associated with being an emergency dentist, there are also some benefits. 

The reason why most dentists refuse to be an emergency dentist is because patients with emergency dental issues can disrupt their regular schedule that they have with their non-emergency patients. Often, when emergency dentists interrupt their normal schedule to treat an emergency, their scheduled patients get irritated because they have to wait, and it has the potential of damaging the dental-patient relationship.

This can cause patients to choose to use another dentist, especially if they have waited for two or three months for their appointment and are then asked to wait an hour or longer to take care of the emergency. Because most dentists feel the need to create a feeling of trust and loyalty with their patients, many of them decline to service individuals needing emergency dental procedures.  Sometimes, to help service the emergency needs of their current patients,  they open on Saturday and have one or two appointments scheduled while leaving time available for emergency situations.

The dilemma with dentists not serving the community’s emergency dental needs comes when one of their regular patients has an emergency. If dentists are not willing to treat their own patient’s emergencies immediately, they can lose their relationship with that patient.

One way that regular dentists have found to resolve this issue is to set aside some time during their day (one or two hours) where they do not schedule anything. This allows them to act as an emergency dentist without hurting their relationship with their current patients for the most part.

Some larger dental clinics have created office space for a full-time emergency dentist with extended hours. This emergency dentist is available to service the emergency dental needs of the regular patients of other dentists in the clinic as well as other members of the community. This strategy has been successful in fulfilling the needs of patients with emergencies without creating scheduling conflicts with the other dentists’ regular patients.

In other circumstances, patients who need immediate care often have a hard time finding someone to see them. The goal of an emergency dentist is to quickly provide needed treatment to relieve dental pain or to stabilize a critical situation.

But the fact is that most emergency dentists perform temporary work on their emergency patients. This usually has to do with the emergency dentist’s time constraints. Because of this, some patients become frustrated with the expense and inconvenience associated with necessary return visits to replace initial temporarily fixes with permanent repairs.

For example, in a normal, non-emergency situation, most root canals are done from start to finish within a one hour time period. An emergency dentists’ principle concern is to get the patient out of pain. It is not to perform the entire procedure. Instead of doing all of the root canal, for instance, the emergency dentist can open the tooth and remove the nerves and the biting surface of the tooth so that the patient is unable to further damage the tooth.

Here is another case in point. Instead of a patient getting a permanent restoration, when in an emergency, an emergency dentist will use temporary sedative fillings to protect the tooth until something can be permanently done.

Unfortunately, many patients get upset (even though the emergency dentist is often fitting the patient into his or her schedule, often at the chagrin of the patients in the waiting room) about getting something temporary done and insist on getting the permanent repair or replacement done that day.

This often creates a scheduling problem and provides the dentist, his emergency patient, and his regular patients with a negative experience.

So we see that while taking care of the emergency needs of his or her patients could increase the patient-dentist relationship, emergency dentists also could damage the patient-dentist relationship by putting the emergency needs in front of the needs of their scheduled patients – principally because of their lack of patience.

Our advise is that dentists schedule additional time for each appointment than what is really needed, giving dentists the ability to provide for the needs of both current and potential patients who find themselves in emergency situations.