Are Wisdom Teeth a Dental Emergency?

I’m wondering if my wisdom teeth qualify as a dental emergency or if it’s ok for me towait for treatment a while. I’m 23 and they’ve bothered me off and on since Iwas 16, but my parents never took me in to have them taken out. I just kind oflived with it and took Tylenol when they’d bother me. They’d usually calm backdown after a week or so. This time, however, I’m going on a month or more ofpain. It’s not a screaming pain, but it is enough that I usually wake up in themiddle of the night and have to take more Tylenol, then wait for it to kick in,before I can get back to sleep.

I get that they need to be checked out, but I just startedmy first post-college job and won’t qualify for insurance for another month. Ontop of that, I’m told there’s some kind of clause in the plan that requires meto have all “major services” preauthorized, and extractions are a “majorservice.” My boss says it took her more than a month to get approved for acrown. The caveat, though, I guess, is that if it’s a dental emergency, I canhave treatment on the spot. Will this qualify or should I wait for an approvalto come back? I don’t want to, but I’m also afraid I’m going to get stuck witha huge bill that I can’t afford. If it comes down to that, I’m going to try towait it out.



Dear Rochelle,

The general rule of thumb is that if it hurts, you should goin and have treatment. Ideally, you should get treatment before it hurts, butbarring that, pain is a big warning sign that shouldn’t be ignored.

When we’re talking wisdom teeth, there are three common typesof pain. You can have discomfort from the tooth, itself, pushing upward, youcan have pain from the tooth pushing other teeth out of alignment, or you canhave a cavity/ infection. Obviously, if it’s one of the first two, waiting afew weeks isn’t going to change much. This is likely what you’ve dealt with inthe past, which is why it stopped. You may have experienced shifts in yourother teeth, which couldeventually necessitate orthodontics, but treating that falls into the “assoon as you can” category, and it isn’t urgent. On the flip side, an incessantnagging pain, one which you describe as being different from prior occurrences,is a red flag that you may have some kind of infection or cavity brewing. That’ssomething you’ll want to get diagnosed right away. If it’s not serious, thedentist looks at it and says it’s just pressure/ shifting pain, and then youcan go back to waiting if you want. But, if you delay, you could become quiteill, the pain will likely get even worse, and there could be potentially life-threateningconsequences of ignoring an infection. It really should be checked before yourinsurance kicks in.

As far as preauthorization and insurances go, pain is the distinguishingfactor here. While the insurance company is always going to do whatever it willdo based on its internal criteria, the pain is what makes this a dentalemergency, and you shouldn’t be expected to wait. Generally speaking, all thedoctor will have to do is note in your chart that you were in pain, and hisbilling specialists will tell the insurance company that’s why you went forward.They should cover it without an issue. If you have concerns, though, give theinsurance company a call and let them know what’s up, so they can advise you onyour specific plan.

This blog is sponsored by Elgin dentist, Dr. Steve Sirin.Dr. Sirin offers same-daydental emergency appointments in Elgin, Illinois.

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