The urgent or after hours phone call to the dentist's office usually indicates a dental, traumatic, infectious, or pain emergency relating to the teeth or adjacent supporting structures. One subject not discussed at length in the professional literature is the emergency patient with acute pain or dysfunction of the orofacial musculoskeletal system, primarily the muscles of mastication and the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The practitioner should be able to rapidly and efficiently diagnose and manage these emergency patients, or make adequate referral as necessary. Essential features in the diagnosis involve distinguishing muscle problems from intracapsular disorders. Knowledge of general medical-dental differential diagnosis is essential to rule out those problems masquerading as muscle or TMJ disorders. Proper emergency management is directed at controlling the pain or hypomobility disorder and stabilizing the patient. Contrary to most other aspects of dental practice, rapid and complete elimination of symptomatology may not be possible at this visit. Subsequent management should further define the pathologic process and direct the patient to additional phases of care. This report suggests a series of diagnostic and therapeutic guidelines.