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Leah Crites09-Apr-214 min read

How To Manage Time for Emergencies in Your Dental Practice

Are your staff stressed? Patients waiting too long in your lobby before being seen? Staying late every night? 

Research shows that time pressure is a major cause of stress for dentists. The struggles you’re facing in your dental practice might be the result of trying to fit in last-minute emergencies.

Emergency patients are unavoidable. They need to be seen. When someone calls your office in pain, they need your help and must be looked after. But, emergency calls can throw your day—and your practice—off balance. 

Fitting in last-minute patiences for dental emergencies doesn’t have to be stressful. Read on to learn how to manage time for emergencies in your dental practice. 

A clock next to four sticky notes that say plan, train, triage and software

Emergency Today, Regular Patient Tomorrow

Easing the discomfort of an emergency patient is a great way to create a regular patient. If you turn down their appointment because you don’t have time in your schedule, you might drive them to another practice.

If you’re able to successfully fit them in and help them, perform the emergency procedure, but save the routine work for another time. Before they leave your office, make sure they’re in the system and have either pre-booked their next appointment.

After all, 80% of revenue comes from existing patients, so making sure that today’s emergency becomes a part of your recall strategy is crucial.

Train Your Team

Your front office team will likely feel pressure to fit emergency calls in as soon as possible. This might happen to the detriment of your regular appointments. 

Dental assistants should be up to speed on beginning the diagnostic process for emergencies and asking the right questions in order to brief you on the patient’s situation.

Scheduling is a source of conflict between dentists and their reception staff. While it might be easy for you to look at the schedule and determine the best time to fit in an emergency, your staff might find it much more difficult. 

Ensure your staff know which procedures are production-intensive and which ones afford you a little more flexibility. 

Train your team to recognize the best times to slot in emergencies. Make sure they have the tools they need to book in emergency patients easily and without disrupting the day.

Man at a dentist's reception counter while a woman is on the phone triaging a dental emergency patient

Triage Ahead of Time

Almost all emergency patients have an issue that is not really an emergency. It’s important that your staff are able to triage patients on the phone and determine what constitutes a real emergency that cannot wait. 

Is the patient currently experiencing pain? Do they notice any swelling? When patients answer yes to these questions, they need to be seen.

When a patient calls with a chipped tooth, it may certainly be an emergency in their mind. But unless there’s pain accompanying the chip or there is imminent harm to the patient, it’s not a situation that needs to be dealt with immediately. 

Setting expectations about what constitutes an emergency at your practice is an imperative part of managing time for those last-minute calls.

Schedule Effectively

You’re probably already allocating time in your schedule for high-production appointments like root canals. If you’re a practice that sees emergency patients at a rate of more than one a day, you might need to schedule some time that’s set aside to fit these appointments in.

The daily schedule should be relatively flexible too. For example, don’t be too attached to doing hygiene consultations at the beginning or end of a patient’s appointment. They can happen whenever you have time.

Plan Properly

Meet with your staff regularly to go over the schedule for the day. Assume that emergencies will occur and determine the best times to fit people in. 

If the whole team knows the best times to slot in a last-minute appointment, the day will flow more smoothly and you’ll all stress less.

Try a Software

Front office staff are busy with all kinds of responsibilities. When they’re taking calls for emergencies and handling last-minute appointments, other things slip through the cracks — things like following up with due or late patients.

If you aren’t using a recall software, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to fill your calendar. Take something off your staff’s plate and automate the process. Software like RecallMax can increase practice revenues by 15-20%.

When your schedule is consistently full, you won’t mind leaving those extra few minutes at the beginning or end of each day for emergencies. 

Stress Less With The Proper Tools

Many dentists say their stress levels are high. While some stress is part of the job, implementing strategies for managing emergencies in your dental practice can help.RecallMax offers a quick and easy health check for your practice, to determine if your recall and scheduling practices need an extra boost. It’s painless and will put you on the right track to managing those emergencies and gaining some extra time in your day!


Leah Crites

Leah started her career in the dental industry in 2002, managing one of North America’s largest dental practices. From there she moved on to run her own practice management consultancy firm, which focused on system development, implementation and performance analysis. Over the course of her career, and backed with over two decades of invaluable experience, Leah has become an expert in optimizing practices to deliver long-term growth. Now, as Vice President of Client Success at RecallMax™, Leah utilizes her passion to develop advanced education programs and provide consultative advice to dental practices across Canada and the USA. Leah is a Founding Advisory Board Member at Women in DSO, established in 2019 to empower and develop women leaders in the DSO and dental industry.