When you have a pain or swelling around your mouth or face, you might not know whether to turn to your doctor or dentist. Seeing an NHS GP doctor is free at the point of access whereas most adults pay to see their dentist. However, dentists have more training than doctors on pain and infections that affect the mouth. In this article, we run through the different problems that you may face and who to book an appointment with.

Toothache and swelling in your mouth

This is a pretty easy one. A dentist will be able to treat your toothache or abscess better than a doctor. Doctors do have some training on teeth but they don’t have the same equipment that a dentist has to get you out of pain as quickly as possible.

Toothache - the Online Dentist

Sometimes toothache can be caused by flu or cold. Your upper molar teeth are very close to the sinus in your cheek bone. If you are bunged up with snot and your sinuses are blocked, this can cause your teeth to become painful. If you think this might be the problem, it’s still a good idea to visit your dentist.


On the whole, the best person to see for headaches will be your doctor. Headaches can be caused by lots of things; migraines, bunged up sinuses or stiff necks. If you are getting lots of headaches, you should visit your GP as soon as you can.

However, sometimes headaches can be caused by clenching or grinding your teeth. Overworking your jaw can cause the joint to become inflamed. Your chewing muscles can tighten up or go into spasm. If you are getting headaches that are worse when you wake up in the morning, it could be because you are grinding your teeth. In this situation, your dentist has more experience and will be able to help you better than your doctor.

For more advice on problems with your jaw, take a look at the article.

Mouth ulcers

Mouth ulcers are quite common. A mouth ulcer is when there is a break in the skin that covers the inside of your mouth. Ulcers can be caused by a sharp bit of food digging in. They can be caused by an infection or they can happen for no obvious reason at all. They can be sore but will normally heal within a week. If you have an ulcer that has been present for two weeks and is not healing, you should visit your dentist or doctor straight away. Ulcers that do not go away can sometimes be the first sign of mouth cancer.

Mouth ulcer - The Online Dentist

It is very unlikely to be mouth cancer but if you have an ulcer which has not healed after two weeks, you need to be seen as soon as possible. Your dentist will have more experience with mouth ulcers but either your dentist or doctor will be able to help.

Changes to the inside of your mouth

If you have a red or white patch develop inside your mouth, the best person to see is your dentist. Dentists look at mouths all day every day so have a pretty good idea of whether something is normal or needs attention.

Facial or dental trauma

If you have had an injury or a bang to the head, you may feel in shock. You may be confused or you might be scared because you’re bleeding. You might have hit or damaged your teeth. So who do you go to see?

If you have lost consciousness at any point, you need to go straight to your nearest Accident and Emergency department.

If you haven’t lost consciousness and the main damage is to your teeth, you will probably need to head to your dentist.

If you have knocked out an adult tooth whole, read this article.

If you have traumatised your teeth, read this article.

Swelling around your face or jaws

Swelling that appears very quickly is usually caused by infection. If the swelling is around your mouth or under your jaw, you may need to see a dentist. If the swelling is elsewhere then you may want the attention of a doctor.

If you have swelling that is growing very rapidly and is affecting your breathing, you should call an ambulance immediately.

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