Dental Emergencies 101

Don’t panic. Accidents happen. And when they do, knowing how to respond could mean the difference in saving your tooth and minimizing your pain and discomfort, or not. Whether you’re dealing with a broken tooth, an abscess, a persistent toothache or some other dental problem, this handy guide should help you navigate the stress of a dental emergency.

Is it a True Emergency?

Often, it’s difficult to tell what is a dental emergency and what is not. A true dental emergency is a dental problem that requires immediate treatment in order to save a tooth, stop ongoing oral bleeding or alleviate severe pain.
True dental emergencies include:

  • A loose or knocked out permanent tooth
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Injured or possibly broken jaw
  • Painful swelling, and
  • Painful toothache.

If you are experiencing a dental emergency outside of our regular business hours you should visit the emergency room to be treated as soon as possible.
On the other hand, many dental problems are not true dental emergencies. These types of problems can wait a little bit longer until you can be seen by a dentist, and often include:

  • Lost filling, crown or bridge
  • Broken or cracked tooth (unless it’s causing severe pain)
  • Broken or damaged appliances (like a retainer or night guard), and
  • Dull toothaches.

Regardless of which kind of dental problem you’re dealing with, it is important to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible so they can provide you with the best treatment options for your situation.
Not sure what to do in the meantime? Check out our tips below to see how you can ease your pain and panic before you get to the dentist.

Knocked-out Tooth

Gently pick up the tooth by the crown (the part you usually see) and never by the root. The root is very delicate and can be permanently damaged. Try to get to the dentist as soon as possible so they have a chance of saving the tooth.
Keep the tooth moist by keeping it in a small glass of milk. Milk is chemically compatible with teeth, and won’t make the roots swell and burst like they would when placed in plain water.
Remember that any storage of a dislodged tooth is temporary and the best chance of saving a tooth depends on getting to the dentist within 30 minutes to an hour after the accident.

Abscesses

An abscess can look like a clear, white, yellow, or a red pimple on your gums. Often times it means the tooth or gum tissue is infected and you need to be seen quickly so your dentist can get you started on antibiotics. Do not try to pop the abscess. Instead, rinse often with warm salt water to ease the pain and draw the pus toward the surface.
While it’s important to see your dentist for an evaluation as soon as possible, don’t be surprised if treatment is not started that same day. The swelling alone can make it difficult for your dental health care team to get to the tooth, and an infection can prevent the numbing medicine from working. Often you will need to take antibiotics as instructed and return within a few days to a week to begin treatment.

Toothaches

If you’re having a toothache there are several at-home options that can help ease your pain until you can see your dentist.
Rinse your mouth out with warm water and gently try flossing around the area that’s causing you discomfort. Often, food may be lodged around the tooth and getting it out with floss can relieve quite a bit of pressure.
Another option is to take an over the counter mild pain reliever such as ibuprofen or aspirin. You might also try applying a cold compress to the cheek to help keep down swelling.

Chipped, Cracked, or Broken Teeth

If you’re not in pain, this gives you a little extra time to get to the dentist. Collect any broken pieces and rinse them off. Sensitivity to hot and cold is normal and should go away within a few hours to a few days. Call the dentist for an appointment so they can evaluate your problem and recommend treatment such as a filling, crown, or extraction. Again, apply a cold compress to keep down swelling.

You’ve Got This

Dental emergencies happen to the best of us. While they have the potential to be scary, they don’t have to be. The most important thing to remember: when dealing with a dental emergency is that things tend to get worse the longer you wait. So don’t put it off. When something happens, stay calm and call your dentist. Be prepared to come in as soon as possible. The more information you can give them, the better. You are your own first line of defense when it comes to your oral health. Knowing what to do and how to react when a dental emergency happens just might save more than your tooth, it could save your sanity, too.

Jeff Hester is owner of Hester Designs. Jeff is an organizer of visual communication and systems. Jeff uses art, design, programming, and observation to create clear communications and tell interesting stories.

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