Emergency Patient Treatment

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Patients | Treatment Recommendations

The dentist must be available for patients of record anytime an emergency occurs, no matter when that might be. It’s up to you to assess whether the situation is a true emergency or something that can easily wait until the next morning or when the practice reopens on the next business day. Keep in mind that patients in pain need to be reassured and offered relief from their symptoms.

  • The voice mail message used when the office is closed should clearly advise callers with a life threatening emergency to dial 911 or immediately go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. While that’s typically not the case for dental issues, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
    • The voice mail message should provide patients of record with an after-hours phone number they can call to reach you, such as “If you are an existing patient and this is a dental emergency, please contact Dr. Smith at (phone number).”
    • The voice mail message should also include emergency information for individuals who are not patients of record.
  • Your office should have a defined contingency plan for handling emergencies and how to handle or refer patients if you are incapacitated. The ADA’s Guidelines for the Development of Mutual Aid Agreements in Dentistry is one resource for handling these types of situations.
  • Your office should be prepared to provide referral information to individuals who are not patients of record but who do contact you for emergencies.
  • If your practice is busy, allow time in the schedule for emergencies. If your schedule is light, identify the best time to see emergency patients during your morning staff meeting.
  • Your staff should also be trained in basic triage.

Additional Resources:

Guidelines for the Development of Mutual Aid Agreements in Dentistry [ADA Catalog]
Emergency Treatment Form [Word]