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NHS Wales Dental Referral Management System
Your Health Board
Triage in dental services
A brief explanation of the process of triage and why its used in dental services
Triage in the NHS

If you have ever attended A&E then you will have more than likely experienced the process of triage. A formal definition is the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treatment of a large number of patients or casualties. In A&E this typically involves a triage nurse examining you to see if you need urgent or routine care – are you suffering from a heart attack or have you broken your finger?

Triage in Dentistry

How does this relate to dentistry? When your dentist refers you they are doing this for a number of possible reasons:

  • The treatment you need is complex and beyond the scope of general dental practice
  • The treatment you need may require special equipment or tests not available in general practice
  • You have a medical condition, or are taking certain drugs, which can complicate dental treatment
  • Your dentist wants a second opinion or advice on a treatment plan for you

In the past there was usually only one place, or provider, to send you to – a hospital (known as secondary care). Recently the NHS has described a new approach to a range of dental services in documents called pathways – this has opened lots of new providers – in primary care – that might be appropriate for your needs. Primary care provision is usually with dentists who are specialists or who have had additional training.

The purpose of triage is therefore to look at the referral sent by your dentist and to assess the complexity and determine where you would be best be treated.



The NHS provides details on the levels of complexity that are applied to referrals and our triage staff will follow these. Very briefly the levels can be considered as:

  • Simple care that should be provided by your dentist, or a similar dentist in the practice
  • More complex care that can safely be provided in a primary care setting by a dentist with specialist or additional skills
  • Highly complex care requiring a Consultant and or a hospital setting

The triage process is only as good as the information provided on the referral form – so its important that you share all the relevant information with your dentist.

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