Are Emergency Dentist Appointments More Expensive?

woman pointing at coin for dental emergency cost blog

I haven’t been in for so much as a cleaning since I was a kid and I’m now in my 30s. I’ve got this lingering toothache, but it isn’t particularly bad right now, so I’ve been kind of nursing it along and just taking Tylenol when it bothers me. My problem is, money is tight, and I’m worried that, because I don’t have a regular office, I’ll need a dentist on an emergency basis. Are emergency dentist appointments more expensive than regular ones? And, if so, could I maybe get away with not pointing out that I have a toothache and just waiting for him to say I have a problem?



Dear Lee,

Generally speaking, emergency dentist appointments are not more expensive than traditional ones, but they have the potential to be for a couple of reasons.

How First-Time Visits are Traditionally Billed

When you go to an office the first time, the doctor will normally perform what’s known as a “comprehensive exam” and he’ll need x-rays to do it. So you’ll normally have a set of four “bitewings” taken, which capture the teeth and areas between the teeth (one for each corner of the mouth) and either a panoramic x-ray, which covers your full jaw in one picture, or a full-mouth series, which typically includes 18 snapshots of your teeth at virtually every angle.

In the comprehensive exam, the doctor will look at all your teeth, your gums, and everything related to your mouth to provide a full picture of your oral health. He’ll then diagnose any issues and go over any necessary treatment. Depending on what you’ve got going on, it can be a short or long process.

If you have insurance, all these things are considered diagnostic. Most (but not all) insurance companies pay 100% of your diagnostic fees, so you normally pay nothing. Some doctors try to work in a cleaning as well. If that’s the case, and there’s no periodontal disease present, insurance typically picks up the bill for that too.

If the doctor diagnoses things like periodontal disease or cavities, you’ll usually book appointments to go back for treatment later. Your office should give you estimates for everything based on what they expect insurance to pay, so you’ll leave that day with a roadmap.

How Emergency Dentist Visits are Billed

When you have an urgent need like a toothache, the doctor focuses his time on just the area bothering you. The exam performed is referred to as a “limited exam” for this reason. He’ll typically want an x-ray taken of the troubled tooth, which is known as a periapical x-ray or PA, in order to make a diagnosis. These are also diagnostic procedures, so most (but not all) insurance companies will cover 100% of your costs for this.

This is where things start to differ. If you’re not in pain, there’s no reason why you have to have work done right away, which is why the doctor will have you schedule appointments for a later date when you go in for a comprehensive exam. When you go in for a limited exam, you’re usually hurting, and so the dentist will likely want to do some kind of treatment then and there to make you comfortable again. Ergo, you may wind up paying for whatever the insurance company doesn’t toward a filling, crown, root canal, or some other procedure.

Are Emergency Dentist Appointments More Expensive?

The price does not differ whether you pre-planned treatment or not. A crown is a crown, whether it’s a dental emergency or not.

Your treatment needs may be greater if you wait until you’re in pain. It probably goes without saying, but if you catch a cavity while it’s small, you’re probably just looking at a filling. Pain is usually a sign that the damage to the tooth is extensive, so a lot of the time (but not always), a toothache does signify that something more is needed, such as a crown or root canal. These procedures are more intensive, and therefore, are more expensive than a filling. Rather than delay treatment until it hurts, you should try to get into an office that creates financial arrangements, offers some form of financing, or provides affordable dentistry.

Some offices charge for “premium” time slots. Practices like Sirin Dentistry hold spaces for emergency dental needs, purely because the doctor doesn’t ever want someone to wait in pain. There’s no extra charge to take one of these spots; you need only phone in advance to find out what time the doctor is available and have the team reserve it for you. However, there are some practices with extended hours that will charge you for a space during those extended hours, such as an evening or weekend appointment. It’s possible some do the same for emergency appointments, but neither is standard practice in the industry, and the office should make you aware of it at the time of your booking.

This blog is sponsored by Dr. Steve Sirin. If you’re looking for emergency dentist appointments in Elgin, please phone his office directly to reserve his next available appointment.

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