There are two ways to get dental care in the UK: through the NHS or with a private dental care provider. Currently there very few dentists who offer routine dental care on Sundays or emergency dental care and the great majority of these will be private dentists. An emergency dentist will only give you the minimum treatment necessary to solve the problem until you can get a regular dental appointment, and the best way to access it depends on your circumstances.
What counts as a dental emergency?
Dental problems such as toothache or swelling can be very painful and uncomfortable. But you may find that over-the-counter painkillers will keep the pain and discomfort under control until you can make an appointment during normal working hours. Most dentists reserve a few appointments daily for problems that are urgent but are not considered real emergencies that require immediate treatment.
However, these are the circumstances that are generally considered to be dental emergencies:
- Severe pain that’s not controlled by normal painkillers.
- Trauma caused by an accident or injury e.g. an adult tooth knocked out, significant swelling.
- Bleeding in the mouth that won’t stop – perhaps after an earlier tooth extraction.
Getting emergency dental treatment on the NHS
The best place to start if you have dental problems out of hours is with your own dentist. You may find your dentist offers emergency dental services anyway, but if not, there’s usually a recorded message left on the answering system that will tell you what to do if your surgery is closed.
If you can’t find information about emergency dental services from your own dentist, or you’re not registered with an NHS dentist, call the NHS 111 service and explain the problem. They will be able to tell you if there is an emergency dentist that can offer out of hours cover, or if there’s an emergency dental centre you can go to.
Emergency Dentist online information
Another way to find out about an emergency dentist is to look online. The NHS website will help you to find a dentist by entering your postcode, or you could try a local tourist information website, openonsunday or Yell.com which may have a list of dentists offering emergency care.
Emergency dental centres
Most areas have an emergency dental centre that caters solely for dental emergencies. These clinic only offer a restricted range of services, such as:
- Exploratory examination (including any necessary X-rays).
- Initial clean-up.
- Temporary fillings.
- Re-insertion of adult tooth that’s been knocked out or temporary fix.
- Antibiotics to bring an infection under control.
These services are designed to ‘keep you going’ until you can get the problem sorted out permanently and you’ll be expected to book an appointment with a regular dentist as soon as possible.
A consultation at an emergency centre will cost £18.80 – the lowest NHS price band.
Some centres require you to make an appointment first but others offer a walk-in service where you can be seen without an advance appointment.
Accident and Emergency department
You should only go to the Accident and Emergency department at the hospital as a last resort. A&E departments deal with many different emergency health problems, so you may find there is a long waiting time before you can see a doctor. It’s better to go to an emergency dentist for specialist dental care if possible.
Private dental treatment
Private dentists will often offer longer opening hours than NHS dentists so you may find your surgery already opens on a Sunday. Many private dentists will also provide treatment in an emergency – contact the surgery to find out what services they offer.
Naturally, the cost will be higher than for an NHS service and some dentists may charge extra for emergency consultations and treatment. For example, the cost of an emergency consultation begins at around £30-£40 and you may have to pay for any treatment, medication etc. on top of that.
If your private dentist doesn’t offer an emergency service, or it’s not available when you need it, you can still go to an NHS emergency dental centre for urgent treatment until you’re able to see your own private dentist.
If you’re just visiting the UK (e.g. you’re on holiday), and you’re not a UK resident, you may have to pay the full cost of your dental treatment. You might have to pay for this in advance and there are different arrangements for how much you have to pay, depending on your country of origin and your individual circumstances. These will be explained to you when you go to the emergency dentist.
However, it’s important to be sure you have proper healthcare insurance that covers dental problems. Contact your provider before attending an appointment to be sure of the conditions of your policy, take your insurance documents with you to the dental surgery, and be sure to keep your receipts safely in case you need to claim the cost of your treatment back when you return home.