Dental Emergencies: Do You Know What To Do?
Many people at some point in their lives have some sort of dental emergency.
When to Seek Immediate Dental Care
See a dentist immediately in the following situations:
- Severe pain: Common causes for severe pain include injury, infection, broken teeth, abscess (dental infection) or pain following dental procedures.
- Abscesses: Likely caused by the death of a nerve inside the tooth or a gum infection. Untreated, an abscess could be life threatening. Antibiotics/pain killers may be prescribed.
- Displaced teeth: If a tooth is pushed inward or outward, reposition to normal alignment with light finger pressure. Do not force. Use a moist cloth or gauze to hold tooth in place. See a dentist within 30 minutes of injury.
- Broken or fractured teeth: Minor fractures may be smoothed by a dentist using a sandpaper disc. Moderate to severe fractures may require more extensive treatment.
- Injuries to soft tissues: Tears, cuts or punctures inside the cheeks, lips or tongue. Clean and treat immediately in an urgent care center or emergency department. For tongue laceration, pull tongue forward; apply pressure to area with clean gauze.
Other Urgent Dental Matters
- Toothaches: Toothache or tooth pain is typically caused when the nerve root of a tooth is irritated. It can be very painful if not properly treated. Use floss to remove any food trapped between teeth. Do not put heat or aspirin on the aching area. Avoid very cold or hot foods because they may make the pain worse. Call your dental office to schedule a dental appointment.
- Broken or lost filling: See your dentist as soon as possible. Don't delay. If in pain, take an overthecounter pain medication. Brush and floss to remove impacted foods; eat soft foods.
- Canker sores (aphthous ulcers): If a sore doesn't heal within 10 days, see a dentist. A pharmacist can recommend a topical anesthetic (such as a numbing cream) to reduce discomfort.
- Aspirin: Toothache like pain may also be caused by gum problems or if it is one of your back teeth on the upper arch, it could actually be related to sinus problems. Never place aspirin on a sore or aching area. Aspirin can cause burns on the mouth tissue.
First Aid for Knocked-Out Teeth
If appropriate emergency procedures are followed and you bring the tooth to a dentist ― ideally within 30 minutes, but even within up to an hour or more ― it may be possible to save the tooth.
- Find and pick up the tooth by the enamel or top portion of the tooth to prevent damage to the root.
- Handle the tooth as little as possible and do not touch the root surface.
- If dirty, gently rinse with water, but do not scrub or use soap or chemicals.
- If possible, replace the tooth into the socket immediately and hold in place with fingers or by gently biting down on it.
- If the tooth cannot be replaced in the socket, keep it moist at all times and do not wrap it in a tissue or cloth.
- Transport the tooth to a dentist in: an emergency tooth preservation kit, milk, mouth (next to cheek), or if none of these are practical, in clean water.
- Get to the dentist as soon as possible. If replanted by a dentist within 1530 minutes, there is a 90 percent chance the tooth will be retained for life, although you will typically need a root canal.
- For baby or primary teeth, do not try to place it back into the socket. This could damage the formation of the permanent tooth bud. Seek immediate advice from a dentist
- You can purchase emergency tooth preservation kits in local pharmacies. They contain a small container with a balanced salt solution that will help preserve any living cells on the root surface. They are a useful addition to a car or home emergency kit or athletic trainer team emergency kit.
What is a Dental Emergency?
Any injury to the teeth or gums can be serious. Injury can damage nerves or blood vessels, and there is also a risk of getting an infection. Getting injured teeth repaired and treated quickly is the best thing to do. Even if there is little pain, any structural damage to a tooth ― from a sports injury, for example ― should be considered an emergency. Knowing some basic precautionary measures, as well as how to act quickly in an emergency, could make the difference between losing and keeping your teeth.
Note: The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.