ADAA View Course

Management of Medical Emergencies in the Dental Office (AGD 142)

Presenter: Sue Protzman, Jeff Clark, MS, REMP-T, and Wilhemina Leeuw, MS, CDA


During root canal therapy, a 68-year-old male patient becomes pale, perspires profusely, and clutches his chest. He appears confused, seizes briefly, and is now unresponsive to verbal stimuli. He is not breathing and no pulse can be felt in the carotid artery. Do you know how to handle this situation?

Medical emergencies can occur at any time in the dental office. They can happen to anyone, from the anxious patient in the reception room to the elderly diabetic who was told to skip breakfast prior to coming to her appointment. They can happen to the receptionist with a seizure disorder or to the dentist experiencing prolonged chest discomfort. In a survey of 4,000 dental offices, 75 percent said they had treated medical emergencies in the last ten years. It is estimated that the average dentist will have to deal with one or two life-threatening medical emergencies in their office during their career. Knowing how to handle medical emergencies will make the dental assistant more confident in his or her ability to handle all aspects of the job.

The best way to handle an emergency is to be prepared in advance. Whether the medical emergency occurs years in the future or this afternoon, preparation is the key. All health care providers should be prepared to recognize and handle medical emergencies in the office. Staff should be trained and frequently updated in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation procedures. A written emergency plan should be available, and all staff members should be thoroughly familiar with it and their responsibilities in an emergency. This includes training of office personnel in handling emergencies, development and posting of office emergency guidelines, and maintenance of an emergency kit or “crash cart,” fully equipped and ready for immediate use.


Sue Protzman

Sue Protzman, was a certified dental assistant in a variety of office settings for over 35 years and was affiliated with the Dental Assisting Program at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin for 30 years. An Instructor Trainer in Basic Cardiac Life Support through the American Heart Association, she taught CPR and Emergency Aid Courses at NWTC. Sue was President of the ADAA in 1989-90 and is now retired.

Jeff Clark, MS, REMT-P

Jeff Clark, MS, REMT-P, has been Coordinator and Instructor of Advanced Emergency Medical Services at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin for the over 30 years. While primarily specializing in Paramedic Education, he pioneered a course in Medical Emergencies in the Dental Office for practicing dentists. As a member of the Advanced Cardiac Life Support Affiliate Faculty for the American Heart Association, one focus of his career has been reducing premature death from cardiovascular disease through instruction at both the Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) and the Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) levels.

Wilhemina Leeuw, MS, CDA

Wilhemina Leeuw, MS, CDA, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Dental Education at Indiana University Purdue University, Fort Wayne. A DANB Certified Dental Assistant since 1985, she worked in private practice over twelve years before beginning her teaching career in the Dental Assisting Program at IPFW. She is very active in her local and Indiana state dental assisting organizations. Prof. Leeuw’s educational background includes dental assisting - both clinical and office management, and she received her M.S. degree in Organizational Leadership and Supervision.


Upon completion of this course, the dental professional should be able to:

• Describe emergency preventive procedures and preparedness in the dental office.
• Explain the importance of obtaining a pretreatment health history from each patient.
• Describe the procedure for obtaining a blood pressure, pulse, respirations, and temperature.
• Demonstrate the initial sequence of patient assessment in an emergency.
• Identify how stress and anxiety can lead to medical emergencies.
• Recognize the signs or symptoms of impending or developing emergencies.
• List the general steps to be taken when a medical emergency arises in a dental office.
• Identify the type of emergency when given a patient situation and describe the necessary emergency care.
• Identify the contents of an emergency kit.
• Describe the medicolegal implications of medical emergencies.


The ADAA has an obligation to disseminate knowledge in the field of dentistry.  Sponsorship of a continuing education program by the ADAA does not necessarily imply endorsement of a particular philosophy, product or technique.

The ADAA cautions participants taking this course on the hazards of using limited knowledge when integrating new techniques into their practices.

Credits earned upon completion of the course may be used to meet DANB’s Recertification Requirements.


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