What kind of service should I expect from my dentist?

Mrs. Fish has been dealing with a severe toothache since last Wednesday (today is Monday), and her dentist has not been able to find an appointment for her until tomorrow (He did offer her the option of taking the afternoon off work on Friday in order to drive to his other office 50 miles away). In desperation, she tried calling my dentist on Friday…he takes a 3 day weekend and has no emergency number on his answering machine message.

Now, granted, this isn’t a life-threatening medical emergency, but she will have been in considerable pain for nearly a week by the time she gets seen. Anyone out there in the dental profession who could tell me if this is standard procedure, or if we are justified in being annoyed?

When I had severe tooth pain, my dentist was on vacation, so I left a voice mail and started calling every dentist in the phone book who looked like they might be open on a Friday. (I guess all the dentists go play golf on Fridays.) My dentist’s wife called me back and told me she was trying to set something up with a friend of his who was just moving into his office. The guy came in on his day off to his not yet open office to look at me. And you know what? He didn’t charge me a cent.

I don’t know if it’s typical, but my dentist had always seen me either the same or next day if I was in pain. He has also offered to come into the office on weekends in case of emergency, but I’ve never had to take him up on that.

I’ve seen worse. Your dentist isn’t unique. They get calls everyday that are emergencies, and the appoints are all taken. You should try to find a different dentist, when they have to schedule you 6 months to a year down the road for basic services, because I found those same dentists can take days to see you for true emergencies.

This is my experience as well, even if it’s just to provide a stop-gap treatment or prescribe a pain killer/antibiotic until I can get in for a full appointment.

FWIW, I have had two occasions where I had to cold-call a dentist I’d never seen before to get emergency treatment. Once was when I was on a business trip and once when I had moved to a new city and not found a dentist yet. On both occasions, I found someone willing to see me he next day.

In my experience, dental pain is 10 times worse than anything else. Worse than a burst appendix. I would not want to continue going to a dentist who would make me suffer for a week. Squeeze me in, refer me to a colleague, or give me a prescription.

My dentist has an answering service. On it, he says if you have an emergency, just say, “Emergency.” Last time I tried that, he called back within two hours and set up an appointment the very next day. He is part of a group of dentists, so if he is off or on vacation, I get referred to them immediately.

Maybe not an option depending on where you live but I purposely found a dentist that works out of a group of 5 dentists in a large office.
While I always see the same dentist for regular work it’s nice to know there are four others that can see me in an emergency. They rotate working Saturdays.

That’s how our pediatrician’s office works, too. It’s been great, because the kids always seem to come down with stuff on Friday evening.

Every dentist I’ve ever had got me in immediately if it was an emergency, or if I was in pain. I had one who would even call in painkillers for me without even seeing me (it was for an issue that I’d seen her about many times - she didn’t just take my word for it blindly.)

So yeah, I’d be pissed if I were you, and I’d find a new dentist.

My dentist actually has two criteria: his receptionist will ask you, “Are you in pain?” and if you say yes, she’ll ask, “Now–is it throbbing?” And if you say yeah, it’s throbbing, she’ll work you in ASAP, either that day or the next.

If it’s not “throbbing”, then he’ll see you at his earliest open appointment time, which is usually within the next few days.

I have no idea how many people lie and say yeah, it’s throbbing when it isn’t, just to get in to see him earlier, but the system seems to work for him.

You have every right to be pissed. If I have an emergency, and my dentist cannot see me that day, he will refer me to someone who can. And if you live near a dental school, you might want to try them.

My dentist can usually fit me in by the next day he has office hours, he’s given me another dentist’s name for emergencies when he’s not in, and once he came back to his office at 10 pm, because I called his service to find a hospital with a dentist in the ER. That last one , he wouldn’t do for just anyone, but he knows I don’t complain much about pain, and if I’m having my husband call at 9pm, it must have been the worst pain I ever had.

I have to say though, the fact that your wife didn’t want the Friday appointment makes me kind of wonder how bad the pain really was, if she chose three more days of of pain, rather than an afternoon lost from work and a 50 mile drive.

(hit submit too soon)

And the dentist may have had the same question.

I agree with those who said to start looking for a new dentist. This is not appropriate treatment.

Most dentists see emergency cases right away. Even if that makes those with appointments have to wait. I was once one of those waiting. I arrived for a scheduled appointment, to find a few others in the waiting room. Soon after his assistant came out and told us that the dentist was dealing with an emergency case (an injured football player from the high school up the block), and that it would be about 45 minutes more before he was available. She apologized, offered to reschedule us, or if we wanted to wait, the dentist would work late to finish all our scheduled work that evening. And none of us waiting were too upset – we agreed that an emergency should take precedence. After all, most of us had suffered from a toothache before, and knew how much that hurts.

If they can’t squeeze you into their schedule, most dentists will refer you to some other dentist who can. Or to a dental school. Your dentist didn’t do any of this, so that indicates to me that he doesn’t care much – at least, not as much as I expect him to care about his patients.

I’d look elsewhere.

The last time my husband had a tooth ache, I called my dentist, his wasn’t available. My dentist met us at his office at 11 PM. He did a partial root canal, to relieve the pain, then finished the next day.
Sadly, Charley has since retired. I’m sure there are few dentists so willing to end one’s pain so quickly.

This makes it sound like there are two offices. If he’s not in the one close to you, he can’t see you there, right?

IMHO, once you turn down an appointment, you don’t have much room to complain. Even if it is an inconvenient drive, you’d take it if it was a real emergency.

I’ve never had trouble getting worked in for an emergency. Most dentists will see you that day for pain relief/evaluation.

I’m glad you were willing to wait, and you’re right that most people are. There is a difference, though, between the person that gets their teeth knocked out and the person that calls with a complaint of pain. “Teeth knocked out” is objective, and clearly an emergency. Dentists get those calls, but not all that often.

By contrast, a small dental office (one dentist, and mostly one hygienist) will get between three and ten calls every day with a complaint of pain. Upon further investigation, some of those people are having slight discomfort, some of them are having medium-ish pain, and occasionally, a person is having full-out, awful, genuine dental pain. It’s the receptionist’s job to figure out which people are which and schedule appropriately (usually: try ibuprofen, next couple of days, and when can you get here, respectively). Sometimes, the receptionist messes up. Usually if a patient is insistent enough, they’ll get in, though.

It was, unfortunately, probably a tactical error to not take the proffered Friday afternoon appointment, even if it was inconvenient. Usually, if someone is in enough pain, they’ll take anything you offer them. Turning down an available appointment usually checks the “Well, it’s not THAT bad,” box in the receptionist’s head.