Dental problem that requires immediate treatment in order to save a tooth, stop ongoing tissue bleeding or alleviate severe pain is considered a dental emergency.
Your dentist should be the first person you call if you have a dental emergency.
Most dentists set aside time for emergency procedures. Be sure to keep your dentist’s after hours contact information readily available at all times.
Whether at home or traveling, the following tips can help you manage a dental emergency until you can get to the dentist. It is important to remember that with some dental emergencies, seeing a dentist within 30 minutes or less can mean the difference between saving or losing your tooth.
A knocked-out tooth is a dental emergency that requires urgent attention. If the appropriate emergency steps are followed immediately after the tooth has been knocked out, the chances are very good that the tooth can be reinserted and preserved by a dentist.
- Pick up the tooth by the top (crown) of the tooth. Do not touch the root(s) of the tooth.
- Rinse the tooth off very gently to ensure that it’s clean. Do not scrub the tooth or remove any tissue attached to it. Be sure to place a towel or washcloth in the sink so that the tooth does not go down the drain.
- If you can, gently place the tooth back into the socket. Hold it gently in place while trying to bite down.
- If you can’t place the tooth back in the socket, put the tooth in a small container or in a cup of milk. Note that the latter is preferable.
- Call your dentist immediately, since getting to the dentist quickly with your tooth – in addition to following the steps above – it is critical for saving the knocked-out tooth. The longer you wait to re-implant the tooth in its socket, the less chance you have of the tooth “taking” and remaining viable.
Loose Tooth, Tooth Out of Alignment
If you have a tooth that is loose or out of alignment, you should call your dentist for an emergency appointment right away. In the meantime, you can try to put the tooth back in its original position using your finger with very light pressure. Do not try and force it. You can bite down to keep the tooth from moving. Your dentist may want to splint the tooth to the adjacent teeth (the teeth on each side) to keep it stabilized.
Chipped, Cracked or Fractured Teeth
If a tooth is chipped and doesn’t hurt, this usually does not constitute a dental emergency and you can wait a few days to see a dentist. However, it is important to be careful while chewing so as not to chip it more. Your dentist may simply be able to smooth the chip out, or add some composite filling material to repair the tooth.
A cracked or fractured tooth is a serious issue constituting a dental emergency. Fractured or cracked teeth usually suggest that damage has occurred to the inside of the tooth as well as to the outside. Several fractures are so extreme that the tooth cannot be saved. If you suffer a fractured tooth, call your dentist immediately for an emergency appointment and follow these steps:
- Clean your mouth out by gently rinsing thoroughly with warm water.
- If the fracture is caused by facial trauma, apply a cold compress to the area to minimize any swelling.
- Take acetaminophen (not aspirin) according to the packaging directions to alleviate pain.
- Never apply a painkiller to the gum because it can burn the gum tissue. This includes Orajel, which often is marketed for these types of procedures.
An X-ray will be needed in order for your dentist to properly diagnose the condition of your tooth. If the soft tissue inside of the tooth (the tooth pulp) is damaged, your tooth may need a root canal. If the pulp is not damaged, the tooth might only need a crown.
Most dentists use an outside laboratory to make a crown. In this case you will have to wear a temporary crown while the laboratory makes a permanent crown. If the tooth cannot be saved, your dentist will inform you of the various alternatives for replacing missing teeth, such as implant-supported restorations or bridges.
Tissue Injury and Facial Pain
Any type of injury inside the mouth, such as puncture wounds, lacerations and tears to the lips, cheeks, mouth and tongue, are considered tissue injuries and a dental emergency. If you experience any type of tissue injury, it is important to clean the area immediately with warm water. If the bleeding is coming from the tongue, gently pull the tongue forward and place pressure on the wound using gauze. You should get to an oral surgeon or nearby hospital emergency room as quickly as possible.
To alleviate any type of facial pain associated with tissue injury, you can take acetaminophen as directed on the packaging label. Never take
aspirin or ibuprofen for a dental emergency because they are anticoagulants, which can cause excessive bleeding.
Other Dental Emergencies
A severe infection or abscess in the mouth can be life-threatening and should be dealt with immediately. Your dentist might be able to perform the first stage of a root canal, or will refer you to an endodontist (root canal specialist) to open and drain the tooth and allow the abscess to drain. If your dentist can’t be reached, seek hospital emergency room care.