It’s 4:56pm on a Thursday evening, and after a long day (and week!), you’re looking forward to winding down once you leave the office. Then, the telephone rings and your front-desk coordinator answers. On the other end of the line, a patient frantically explains his or her dental emergency and pleads to come in right away. While all dental practices deal with requests for emergency appointments, not all offices have a protocol to follow in emergency situations.  


Sure, trying to fit a patient into an already hectic schedule isn’t easy, especially if the patient is unable to accept the emergency appointment time due to work, family, etc. However, a patient who is experiencing a true emergency will find a way to make it work. Depending on how frequently emergency appointments arise in your practice, set aside a few slots in your daily or weekly schedule designated solely for emergent cases. It’s possible that the appointments may not always be filled, but it’s better to have a few empty slots than to turn away a patient in pain. You’ll likely lose the patient, while he or she passes on the negative experience to family and friends, or writes a negative review online. If you can help a patient in a time of need, it’s very likely that you’ll keep that patient for a lifetime.


Before trying to schedule an emergency appointment, it’s important to train your office staff to ask certain questions to have a better understanding of the emergency. Use the questions below to triage dental emergencies.

  • Crowns and Bridges: Is the crown or bridge permanent or temporary? Is it broken or just loose? How long have you had the crown or bridge?
  • Tooth Fractures: Is the actual tooth or the crown fractured? What caused the fracture? Is there any part of the tooth left?
  • Dentures: What type of dentures are they? How long have you had the dentures? Do you have a spare that you can temporarily use?
  • Pain: How would you rate the intensity of the pain on a scale of 1 to 10? Are you taking any medication for the pain? If yes, is it helping to ease the pain? Is the pain sharp or dull? Is the area sensitive to hot or cold foods/drinks?
  • Other Traumas: Did a tooth get knocked out? Is there any bleeding?


It’s important to develop a standard protocol to deal with dental emergencies that may catch you off guard. Of course, every emergency is different and will sometimes require adjustments to your protocol, but having as much information as possible before the patient comes in will make the process easier. By taking the time to understand a patient's problem and offer a solution, you’ll likely gain advocates and lifelong patients for your dental practice.