Easing the pain of dental emergencies this winter

NHS England has published a series of Quick Guides around urgent care.  They include Quick Guide: Unscheduled Dental Care developed to provide practical tips showing how to help relieve pressure on frontline services.  Dentist Yasmin Allen explains its value:

When is the worst time to have an urgent dental problem? At the weekend or at night, when dental surgeries are closed, are likely to come top of the list.

It’s at these times that the motto “prevention better than cure” strikes a chord. But how can you control when a tooth may flare up, or when a swelling may appear?

Toothache comes in two main forms – a tooth problem relating to dental decay which can cause severe pain and/or swelling, or a gum problem causing infection pain and swelling. There are other causes such as wisdom tooth pain, jaw pain, cracked teeth but the majority of problems develop from a tooth or gum infection.

You can reduce your likelihood of developing oral problems by:

  1. Visiting your dentist regularly – you may be tired of hearing this advice – but that broken tooth that has not bothered you for many years may need treatment. Your dentist or dental care professional will also be able to provide advice on preventing oral disease.
  2. If you have any problems see your dentist sooner rather than later. Dental pain can often start intermittently and can disappear completely before coming back – with a vengeance.

That’s prevention, what if despite your best efforts a problem does occur or you have the misfortune of having a tooth knocked out or a filling breaking on a Sunday?

  1. Know who to call and where to go – NHS 111 should be your initial point of call for further advice and information on what services you can go to.
  2. Pain control: Take painkillers – Paracetamol and Ibuprofen (do not take if you have a medical condition that contraindicates the use of ibuprofen and do not exceed the maximum dose). You can also contact your local pharmacist for pain control advice.

NHS England has released the Quick Guide: Unscheduled Dental Care which provides information for dental services to ensure that the system can withstand any additional pressures over the winter period. This should ensure that during this winter services opening hours are up to date so that you are sent to the right place at the right time.

Finally for practical advice on a range of dental problems, please see the NHS Choices website.

Yasmin Allen

Yasmin Allen is a dentist who has worked in emergency dental services in a dental hospital environment and within London.

She continues to work within the Emergency dental service and Urgent Dental service.

In her day job she works in Health Education Kent, Surrey and Sussex as dental programme manager.


  1. Gina Deacon says:

    Appalling care for both my adult children. Son lost tooth daughter two nerves plus removal impacted wisdom teeth. Might be easier when younger both recently have had bad experiences. Especially lack of pain control. Think abominable service taken out of NHS, clearly incompetent management now. Very angry, as a mum who looked after my children’s teeth, only to have ruined now.
    Not Care but for profit.

  2. Stromkarl says:

    This system only works if dental surgeries keep NHS Choices and 111 service providers updated about their practice and their policies. In my area there does not seem to be any emergency dental cover, nor anywhere to go for urgent dental care/treatment. 111, the CCG & dental practices are all saying different things about what should happen in regards to unscheduled/acute dental care in my area.
    I am not inspired with confidence in being able to be treated. It is looking like I will have to try to extract my own tooth as I’ve lost sensation in my face & the pain is getting unbearable.

    • NHS England says:

      Dear Sromkarl,

      Thank you for contacting NHS England.

      If you are unhappy with the care you have experienced, you may wish to make a complaint. Details of how to make a complaint can be found on our website here:

      If you are still experiencing pain please contact your dentist or call 111 to discuss this with a healthcare professional.

      Kind regards,

      NHS England

  3. jamsjoseff says:

    Quite Impressive article. I agree with you that we should visiting your dentist regularly, then we can reduce likelihood of developing oral problems. I will share this article on my social network.