Dealing with dental emergencies during the festive season

22 December 2017

How can you ensure your patients know where to turn in an emergency over the festive period?

The GDC expects dental professionals to provide patients with clear information about their arrangements for emergency care. Many practices choose to communicate their out-of-hours arrangements via their website and on a notice in the waiting room but it's worth regularly checking that the information is accurate and up-to-date. It's also a good idea to have an answerphone message which gives an emergency contact number for patients who call out-of-hours.

This is particularly important for patients who are in the middle of more complex and expensive treatment plans, such as those undergoing endodontic treatment or implants, because a satisfactory result may depend on how quickly complications are addressed. Such patients generally need information about the arrangements for out-of-hours emergencies before they leave the surgery, alongside appropriate advice about aftercare.

Doctors should not treat dental conditions

The Dentists Act 1984 restricts the practice of dentistry to registered dental professionals and those in training. This means that, unless dually qualified and appropriately registered with the GDC, doctors should not treat dental conditions. However, they can still provide urgent and necessary medical treatment, even where the underlying cause might be a dental problem. In doing, so, they must be aware of the limits of their competence and consider the availability of other options for care.

To prevent patients going to their GP with dental problems, a dental practice, particularly if it provides emergency dental services, may consider making contact with local GP surgeries so they know how and where to direct patients in need. It may even be possible to develop an urgent referral protocol which reflects latest NICE guidance on managing dental abscesses in primary care, particularly in relation to antibiotics.

This guidance was correct at publication 22/12/2017. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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