Dental Emergencies: Do You Know What To Do?
Follow these tips to be prepared in a dental emergency.
When to Seek Immediate Dental Care
If you have a dental emergency, contact your dentist's office, and explain the situation. Your dentist will advise you on the appropriate care and place of treatment. Conditions that may need immediate treatment by your dentist include:
- 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, abscesses may involve localized pain and swelling. Antibiotics/pain killers may be prescribed.
- Displaced teeth: If a tooth is pushed inward or outward, reposition it into normal alignment with light finger pressure. Do not use force. Use a moist cloth or gauze to hold the tooth in place. See a dentist within 30 minutes of injury.
- Broken or fractured teeth: Moderate to severe fractures may require extensive dental treatment if they involve pain or are causing soft tissue trauma.
- Injuries to soft tissues: This includes tears, cuts, or punctures inside the cheeks, lips, or tongue. For a tongue laceration, pull the tongue forward and apply pressure to the area with a clean gauze.
Other Urgent Dental Matters
- Pain from extensive dental decay or defective restorations: Toothaches like these can be very painful if not properly treated. Use floss to remove any food trapped between teeth and rinse with warm water. Avoid very cold or hot foods because they may make the pain worse.
- Broken or lost filling: If in pain, take an over-the-counter pain medication. Brush and floss to remove impacted foods; eat soft foods. Don't delay treatment.
- Canker sores (aphthous ulcers): Most canker sores go away within a week or two. A pharmacist can recommend a topical anesthetic (such as a numbing cream) to reduce discomfort. Speak with your physician or dentist if canker sores don't heal after two weeks, if they are unusually painful or large, or if you have a high fever with them.
A Word of Caution
Even though it is a painkiller, you should never hold an aspirin against a tooth to cure a toothache. Aspirin is an acid and can cause irritation or a severe tissue burn to the surrounding gum and cheek tissue inside your mouth. This can be very painful.
First Aid for Knocked-Out Teeth
Permanent Teeth -
Knowing what to do in a dental emergency that involves a permanent tooth can help save the tooth. For a knocked-out permanent tooth, follow these steps:
- Find and pick up the tooth by the 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, do not scrub it or use soap or chemicals.
- If possible, replace it into the socket (bone from which it was knocked out) immediately and hold it in place with your 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. 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.
- 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.
Baby or Primary Teeth -
For baby or primary teeth, do not try to place a tooth back into the socket. This could damage the formation of the permanent tooth bud. Seek immediate advice from a dentist.
What is a Dental Emergency?
If you have a potentially life-threatening dental condition that involves uncontrolled bleeding, trauma to facial bones or any other oral condition that makes it difficult for you to breathe, seek immediate treatment at a hospital emergency department.
Injuries to the teeth or gums may be considered urgent because they can involve damage to nerves or blood vessels and increase your potential risk of infection. These types of urgent/emergency conditions are generally treated by your dentist.
Getting injured teeth repaired and treated quickly is the best thing to do. Even if there is little pain, structural damage to a tooth from a sports injury, for example may 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.