One-third of the population will only attend the dentist for an acute problem, often waiting a period of time before presenting. The objective of this study was to investigate the levels of pain in patients presenting for a dental emergency and the impact this had on their quality of life. Questionnaires were provided to adult patients attending dental emergency services over 1 week. Demographic and clinical details were collected. Quality of life was measured using EQ-5D-5L. Pain and the interference it caused were examined using the graded chronic pain scale. Data were analysed in STATA using descriptive statistics, Mann–Whitney and chi-squared tests. Results showed that majority of patients (64%) seen were male; the mean age was 36 (±14) years. Forty six per cent of patients reported having a general dental practitioner. One-third of the patients had attended this service previously for emergency care, and 13% consulted for the same problem. The mean duration of pain was 17·7 (±52·3) days prior to seeking care. The mean characteristic pain intensity was 53·6 (±23·6). The mean disability score was 43·4 (±33·6). The mean EQ-5D-5L score was 0·57 (±0·27). In conclusion, a large number of patients attend the emergency dental services despite being ‘registered’ with a general dental practitioner. A proportion of these individuals will re-attend for the same condition. Patients will often be in pain for over 2 weeks before attending, which may have a significant impact on their quality of life. Further research is warranted to investigate these care-seeking behaviours and patterns.