Can a dentist in France refuse to take a patient in an emergency?

Many parts of France are currently suffering from a shortage of dentists. We look at the options if you require emergency treatment

We look at when dentists are and are not allowed to refuse a patient
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Reader question: Our dentist has retired and has no replacement. We have tried several dentists in the area but all say they are not taking on new patients. What happens if we need urgent dental treatment?

It is becoming increasingly common for people, particularly in rural France, to struggle to find a dentist.

Read more: What is being done about dentist shortages in France?

The good news is that, while dentists can ordinarily refuse to take on new patients, they are forbidden by law from denying patients who require urgent care.

Usually, a dentist will block out time in their schedule to deal with emergencies.

The trouble is “there is no legal definition of an emergency,” said Dr Daniel Mirisch, general secretary of the Ordre National des Chirugiens-Dentistes professional body.

“It is very subjective. For the patient, it is always an emergency, which is why it is up to the emergency services regulator or the dentist to judge,” he said.

Examples of emergencies include a cracked tooth resulting in bleeding, but not always a lost filling.

“Pain is often the primary criteria. A cracked tooth may not be pretty, but we need to ask if it has health consequences.”

The dentist may also agree to see you, but not immediately, said Union Dentaire trade union spokesman Clément Neveu.

“A toothache might feel very painful, but sometimes you can be given pain medication, meaning the issue can wait two or three days,” he said.

It is likely to be considered urgent if painkillers have no effect.

“If it is an emergency and they can take the patient, they will. But it is up to each dentist to evaluate whether it can wait.”

Even if it is the next day or later in the week, a dentist will take an extra patient in an emergency, he added.

If you have an emergency on a weekend or bank holiday and cannot reach a surgery or dental centre, it is possible to dial 15 (for medical emergencies) and you should be directed to an on-call dentist.

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