Got a toothache? Don’t go to A&E! What to do if in pain…


New research reveals today that too many of us are heading for hospital when we have a toothache – and it’s crippling the NHS.

The study reveals cost of dental patients at A&E could be ten times official Government estimates, with dentists suggesting it’s costing the NHS as much as £18 million.

The British Dental Association (BDA) says that people are heading for hospital bypassing what many people consider costly dental care in the hope of landing free treatment at Accident and Emergency departments.

The study – from Newcastle University’s Centre for Oral Health Research – reveals that patients attending A&E with dental problems are now approaching 1% (0.7%) of all attendances.

This is ten times official government figures – with over half of the cases identified related to toothache.

Around 14,500 patients with dental problems attended England’s A&Es according to official stats in 2014/15.

The BDA recently estimated that 600,000 patients a year are seeking treatment from GPs, who like A&E medics are not equipped to treat dental pain.

So, what exactly should we do if we’re in terrible pain with toothache?

Dental pain not only hurts, it may also interfere with eating, prevent us getting a good night’s sleep or impair our ability to talk.

Initially, try dabbing the tooth with a cotton wool ball soaked in clove oil to relieve the pain or rinse with warm salt water. If this doesn’t remedy it, try taking painkillers.

However, should the pain persist and you have toothache for more than two two days, your dentist should be your first port of call – and get to him or her as soon as possible to have it treated.

If your toothache isn't treated, the pulp inside your tooth will eventually become infected, which may lead to a dental abscess and require root canal treatment.

Painkillers may continue to reduce the pain and discomfort while you're waiting to get an appointment.

If it really is an emergency and you cannot wait until the dental clinic is open, you can contact NHS 111 where you can access details of out-of-hours dental services close by.

Bizarrely, perhaps, it’s National Toothache Day on 9 February – an odd thing to mark, perhaps – but the day serves as a reminder to us all on how best to take care of our dental health and prevent toothache and pain developing.

Obviously, accidents do happen so if a tooth is broken or chipped or if you have an infection, visit your dentist as soon as you can.

Dr Justin Durham, the senior author on the study says: ‘If you experience toothache without significant other symptoms, then heading to a hospital’s A&E department isn’t always the best option. Ensuring that patients are treated in the right place, at the right time, by the right team is essential for both the patient and the wider public, not just to ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment but also reduce unnecessary care, and personal costs.

Signs and symptoms
• Shooting pain
• Disturbed sleep
• Sensitivity to cold or hot stimulus
• Pain that spreads to neck and head, ear and jaw
• Bad breath
• Bad taste in the mouth
• Redness
• Swelling or red, shiny gums
• Discoloured tooth
Ask an Expert
Find a dental practitioner in your area

Similar Articles