Skip to main content
ER or Not: Toothache

You are listening to Health Library:

ER or Not: Toothache

Aug 27, 2021

Should you go to the ER if you have a really bad toothache? Find out in this episode of ER or Not with emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen from the University of Utah Hospital.

Episode Transcript

Okay, it's time for another edition of ER or Not with Dr. Troy Madsen, Emergency Physician at the University of Utah Medical Center. This is where you get to learn whether you should go to the ER or not for various ailments.

It's a Sunday morning and I have this killer toothache. ER or not?

Tooth Pain

Dr. Madsen: That's a great question because a lot of people make the decision to go to the ER, especially at the University of Utah, because for some reason a lot of people think we have dentists in the ER, but unfortunately we do not.

As an emergency physician I'm not trained, it's just not part of what I do to pull a tooth if you've got a severe cavity. So if you've got a toothache, as long as you can control the pain at home, I would say don't go to the ER.

If it's something where the pain is so severe, you just cannot get it under control, you can come to the ER. Just keep in mind we won't be able to do a whole lot more than maybe put you on some antibiotics to cool down that infection in your tooth, get you some pain medication, get you feeling a little better. But the bottom line is, you will need to see a dentist for that.

Emergency Room for Abscessed Tooth

Interviewer: What if it's an abscessed tooth and you feel it like looks really ugly in there?'

Dr. Madsen: If you're at a point where it's not just tooth pain but you've got a lot of swelling on the side of your face, if it's extending down into your neck, certainly if it's causing any trouble breathing, absolutely go to the ER. That's a situation where we need to see you emergently.

Emergency Room or Dentist for Tooth Pain

Interviewer: All right, what about for the tooth pain? If it was just the pain could you go to emergency care?

Dr. Madsen: Sure, yes if you could get into an urgent care. A Sunday morning you're going to have a tough time obviously seeing your dentist, but at least if you can go to an urgent care they can give you everything that we would do in the ER.

updated: August 27, 2021
originally published: September 24, 2013