What to Do During a Dental Emergency
Injuries to your gums or teeth, oral disease and other dental emergencies are something you shouldn’t ignore. They’re potentially serious and may require emergency dental care. If you ignore an oral problem, you could increase your risk of permanent damage, which may result in the need for more extensive and costly treatment later on.
Dental emergencies can happen so quickly that you’re not sure what just happened. One minute you’re having fun riding your bicycle, and the next minute you’re holding your tooth in your hand after it’s just been knocked out from a spill. Now you’re left wondering what you need to do next.
You already know what you need to do in a medical emergency. If someone’s choking, you perform the Heimlich maneuver, or you call an ambulance if you or someone else is having a heart attack. But what do you do in a dental emergency?
Typically, you have two options:
- Go to the emergency room.
- Care for the injury yourself until you can get in to see the dentist.
For severe dental emergencies, you won’t want to wait — you’ll want to get to the ER as quickly as you can.
A lot of dental practices provide an emergency number where you can call to receive urgent dental care after hours.
If it’s not too serious, like a cracked tooth or lost filling, you can often wait until the dental office opens. Just remember, however, the longer you wait to have the problem repaired, the more damage can occur, and the more costly the treatment can get.
Types of Dental Emergencies
There are numerous types of dental emergencies, and you’ll want to know what to do in case of one. Here are some of the most common dental emergencies:
Dental pain, or toothaches, are a very common dental emergency, and they can be frustrating to deal with. Toothaches have a wide variety of causes, too, so it’s best to reach out to your dentist for advice.
If you’re experiencing a toothache, you’ll first want to use warm water to rinse your mouth. If your tooth is causing swelling, press a cold compress against the outside of your cheek or mouth. You can take some ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with the pain, but chances are you’ll need a stronger pain reliever that only your dentist can prescribe. Toothaches can become extremely painful, so you don’t want to wait too long to get in to see the dentist.
Can You Go to the ER for Tooth Pain?
Sometimes severe tooth pain is simply so painful that you can’t wait any longer, and you may wonder if the emergency room is a good option. Many people head to the emergency room for help with tooth pain every year, but there are some things you should know about going this route.
In most cases, a dentist will be more qualified to take care of tooth pain and other dental issues, so it’s best to contact your dentist first. However, there may be times when you can’t get in to your dentist soon enough, such as over a weekend or holiday. During these situations, many people choose to go to the ER for their toothache.
It is important to note that a visit to the ER for tooth pain will generally be about pain management only and will likely not solve the cause of the pain. If a stronger painkiller can get you through until you can see your dentist, you may want to consider an ER visit. Otherwise, many ER visits for tooth pain are considered unnecessary as the ER staff can’t do much to solve dental issues.
Do seek out emergency care if your tooth pain is combined with uncontrolled bleeding, trauma to the mouth and head, high fever, extreme swelling or troubles swallowing and breathing.
2. Cracked Tooth
If you have a cracked tooth, take care of it by using warm water to rinse out your mouth and clean the area. If needed, you can use a cold compress pressed up against your face, as well, to bring down any swelling and help with pain. Next, assess the severity of the cracked tooth. If it’s a small chip or crack that isn’t causing any pain, you can likely wait a few days for the next available dental appointment.
But if the cracked tooth is causing you pain or has created a sharp edge that causes trauma to the inside of the mouth, it can be more of an emergency. In this case, get in to see the dentist as soon as possible since a cracked tooth can quickly become a bigger problem.
3. Broken Teeth
Cracked teeth can easily turn into broken teeth, or an injury can cause a broken tooth. If you notice a lump of dental pulp — or reddish flesh — sticking out or if there’s a broken line going up your tooth, get in to see your dentist right away.
Call your dentist if your tooth is pushed up into your gum or has shifted a little but isn’t bleeding or broken off. They’ll advise you on what to do next, which most likely will be to come into their office right away to repair the tooth.
Save any pieces of your broken tooth. Rinse your mouth and any broken pieces with water, and apply gauze to any bleeding area for several minutes until it stops. If the broken tooth has caused swelling, press a cold compress against your cheek, mouth or lip near the area of the broken tooth to relieve pain and bring the swelling down. Don’t wait to see your dentist.
4. Loss of Permanent Tooth
Many different injuries and traumas can lead to a loss of a permanent tooth, or what’s known as tooth avulsion. These common dental emergencies can stem from car and cycling accidents, contact sports, falling accidents and other types of traumatic events. If you have an injury leading to a loss of one of your permanent teeth, you’ll require immediate treatment. If possible, find the tooth.
The Alberta Dental Association & College advises you to rinse the knocked-out tooth in water and refrain from scrubbing it. You should try to put the tooth back in place, holding it at the crown versus the roots. Place it next to the lost tooth opening between the cheek if you’re unable to put it in its original location.
If you can’t put your tooth back in its socket or if you’re concerned you may swallow it, preserve it by placing it into a cup of fresh milk. Add a wad of tissue or gauze to the area missing the tooth if there’s bleeding, biting down to create pressure and eventually stop the bleeding. Call your dentist right away.
5. Bleeding From Your Mouth
If you’re experiencing mouth bleeding, it could indicate an acute or chronic condition. If you notice blood on your dental floss, it typically means you have gingivitis or gum disease. However, if you notice it in your saliva, this could be something more serious like advanced gum disease or even cancer.
It’s not normal to bleed from your mouth. Your mouth is extremely good at preventing bleeding. Therefore, it’s rare to experience gum bleeding from cuts or abrasions. If you’ve just had a tooth extraction and the bleeding isn’t stopping, you’ll need immediate help.
See your dentist for gum disease treatment if you spot blood as you care for your teeth. Blood on your floss or toothbrush isn’t normal and requires prompt treatment.
If you start to bleed after a dental procedure, immediately go back to your dentist. Some bleeding is normal after a dental procedure, but if it continues for several hours, it’s not normal. You’ll want to keep your head elevated and contact your dentist. If it’s after hours, go to the ER. After a dental procedure, keep your mouth elevated and above your heart, particularly while sleeping.
6. Oral Disease
You probably already know exercise and diet play a big role in keeping you healthy. Good oral health is just as important and has a lot to do with a healthy body.
When you have poor oral health, it can affect your quality of life. Oral infections, pain or missing teeth can change how you eat, speak and socialize. It can affect your mental, social and physical well-being, reducing the quality of your life. Often overlooked, however, are tender and bleeding gums. It might seem minor, but this is a subtle sign of oral disease.
You need to treat oral disease. A chronic mouth problem is serious and you shouldn’t ignore it. There’s a link between oral disease and other health concerns like:
- Heart disease
- Respiratory illness in older adults
- Low birth weight in babies
- Preterm birth in babies
While researchers are only now starting to realize this association, many think oral disease can worsen other health ailments. Therefore, maintaining good oral hygiene and a healthy mouth is vital and a significant part of wellness living.
7. Partially Dislodged or Extruded Tooth
Dislodged or extruded teeth may appear longer or wiggle like a loose tooth. If this occurs, get immediate treatment from your dentist. You can use a cold compress to relieve your pain until you get to your dentist’s office. Just apply it to the outside of your cheek or mouth at the area affected. You may also take an OTC pain reliever in the form of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help relieve the pain.
8. Luxated Tooth
A luxated tooth is a dislodged or dislocated tooth, generally caused by some sort of trauma to the head or face. In a luxation, the tissues and ligaments surrounding the tooth are disrupted and can cause the tooth to become loose or otherwise out of place. There are five main types of tooth luxation:
- Concussion: Different from a head concussion, this means the tissue around the tooth is damaged and may be tender to the touch but does not move out of position or become loose.
- Subluxation: With subluxation, the tooth is loose but remains in its original position. There may be bleeding and tenderness.
- Extrusive: In an extrusive luxation, the tooth may be very loose and appear elongated because it is pushed farther out of its socket.
- Intrusive: An intrusive luxation means the tooth has been pushed farther up into its socket, potentially damaging the alveolar bone.
- Lateral: A lateral luxation is when the tooth is pushed to the side in any direction but remains in its original location. It often accompanies damage to the alveolar bone.
With any of these types of luxation, emergency dental work is necessary.
9. Something’s Stuck Between Your Teeth
When something is stuck in between your teeth, it can be incredibly frustrating. Usually, you should be able to get it out yourself, gently using a toothpick, floss or a water flosser. If this does not work, you may need some extra help.
If the object won’t dislodge, go to your dentist and have them remove it. Don’t ever use a sharp object — like a pin — to poke the object since these types of things can scratch the surface of your tooth or cut your gums. A dentist can safely remove the item without causing damage to the surrounding teeth and gums.
10. Injured Gums, Tongue or Lips
If you cut your tongue, gums or lips, it might look like there’s a lot of bleeding. Stay calm since the injury might appear worse than it is. Unless it’s a large cut, these areas in the mouth will likely heal themselves. In fact, cuts and injuries inside the mouth are known to heal faster than most other parts of the body.
If you’ve bruised or cut your gums or lips but your teeth are still intact, you can use cold pressure like a bag of ice, a cold compress or a frozen veggie bag to relieve the swelling and pain. See your dentist if the cut goes across your lip border or is more than a quarter-inch long to receive treatment and ensure it heals correctly. If the injury has more extensive damage or uncontrolled bleeding, see a doctor to determine if stitches or further treatment is necessary.
11. Mouth Injury
You may require immediate dental attention for other mouth injuries. For instance, if you have an injury to your jaw or you have a distorted-looking jawline, you’ll want immediate emergency treatment. You’ll need to keep your face as still as possible until you get medical attention. If you bite your tongue, cheek or lip and you can’t get the bleeding to stop, seek emergency help.
An abscess is an infection occurring around your tooth root or in the space between your gums and teeth. This infection is severe and can damage your surrounding tissue and teeth. An abscess can also potentially spread to other areas of your body if you don’t have it treated.
Since an abscess can cause serious general and oral health problems, see your dentist right away if you notice a pimple-like bump and painful swelling on your gums. Until you see your dentist, you can rinse your mouth with a solution of mild salt water. This rinse will help draw the pus to the surface and relieve your pain. Rinse several times each day until you get to your dentist’s office.
Complications From Abscesses
Abscesses are cause for concern and should warrant an emergency dentist appointment because of the complications that can easily follow. Because a dental abscess is a type of infection, if left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, creating a more serious issue to be treated. An infection from an abscess can spread to the other soft tissues in the face, causing swelling, pain and other complications. This concern is known as cellulitis and generally requires antibiotics, or in more serious cases, hospitalization.
Pulpitis is an inflammation and possibly infection of the tooth’s pulp, or inner tissues. The pulp contains the nerves and other tissues and controls the blood supply to the tooth. Pulpitis can possibly come with a toothache and severe pain radiating from the area. But when pulpitis occurs, you will likely not know it’s the cause of your dental concerns.
Most types of pulpitis can be categorized as either reversible or irreversible. With reversible pulpitis, the tooth’s pulp is generally still healthy and treatable. Mild to moderate pain and inflammation may accompany reversible pulpitis. In irreversible pulpitis, the bacteria have usually spread to the nerve and may be causing more severe pain. A root canal or tooth extraction may be required in this case.
14. Soft-Tissue Injuries
Injuries can lead to bleeding of your soft tissues like your:
There are some things you can do to control the bleeding, including:
- Rinse out your mouth with a solution of mild salt water.
- Use a tea bag or moistened gauze to put pressure on the bleeding area. Hold it in place until the bleeding stops.
- Apply a cold compress to the affected area on the outside of your cheek or mouth for several minutes to relieve pain and control bleeding.
- See your dentist immediately if you can’t get the bleeding to stop. If you can’t see your dentist right away, go to the ER. Continue applying pressure to the bleeding with gauze until you receive treatment.
15. Lost Filling
Dental fillings can fall out for a variety of reasons, including tooth decay, teeth grinding, chewing too hard, crunchy foods and other tooth traumas. If this has happened to you, place a piece of sugarless gum temporarily into the cavity or use over-the-counter dental cement. If you have the filling, save it and bring it to your appointment, as the dentist may want to see it and may be able to reuse it.
Call for an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. If you leave your tooth untreated, you could start experiencing pain and it could become infected.
16. Lost Crown
If you have a crown fall off, schedule an appointment with the dentist right away. Make sure you bring your crown to your appointment, as the dentist might be able to reattach it. If the tooth is painful and you can’t get to your dentist immediately, apply some clove oil on a cotton swab to the sensitive area.
You can buy clove oil at your grocery store in the spice aisle or at the local drug store. If you can, use some denture adhesive or over-the-counter dental cement to place the crown back over your tooth and hold it in place temporarily until you can see your dentist. Don’t use super glue.
17. Loose Bands and Brackets
Reattach loose braces temporarily with some orthodontic wax if you can. Or place the wax over any sharp edges of the brackets or braces to create a cushion and protect the soft tissues of your mouth. See your orthodontist as soon as possible.
If you have a loose band, schedule an appointment with your orthodontist and save the band. They’ll re-cement or replace it at your appointment.
18. Broken Wires and Braces
If you have a wire break or the wire is sticking out of a band or bracket and it’s poking your tongue, gum or cheek, try to move the wire. Gently push the wire back into a more comfortable position using a pencil’s eraser end. Use orthodontic wax to cover the end if you aren’t able to reposition the wire to make it more comfortable and protect the inside of your mouth.
You can also use a piece of gauze or a cotton ball to cover up any sharp wires until you can get treated. Don’t cut the wire since you could swallow it, breathe it into your lungs or cause other damage to your mouth in the process.
Dental Emergency Tips
Dental emergencies are common. And, if you have one, you’ll need to know what to do in that situation. Whether you face cracks to a complete knockout, you have some time to control the situation until you can reach your dentist’s office. If you experience a dental emergency, here are some steps you can follow while you wait for treatment:
- Breathe in deeply: Before you take any action, get control of the situation and calm yourself. Taking a deep breath is a great way to do this. Then you’ll be calm and can evaluate the case to determine how to proceed.
- Assess the situation: If you can see your tooth or mouth, try to assess the problem to see what it is. Did your tooth fall out, or is there a crack in it? If your tooth is not intact, follow the next step.
- Store your tooth safely: If you knocked out your tooth and you can salvage it, store it somewhere safe so you can bring it with you to your dental appointment you’re going to make.
- Call your dentist: Once you figure out what the problem is, give your dentist office a call and set up an appointment to come in for an exam and treatment. Try to explain as thoroughly as possible what happened and what you think the damage is. The dental staff can guide you on your next steps. Following their instructions can help them better prepare for your visit and know which dental emergency procedures they’ll need to perform.
Tooth Injury Prevention
There are things you can do to prevent certain injuries to your teeth. These prevention measures are:
- Don’t chew ice, hard candy or popcorn kernels. These can crack your teeth.
- Wear a mouthguard when you participate in recreational or sports activities.
- Don’t use your teeth to rip something open — use scissors.
You can make a significant difference in your dental health and your dental budget with good daily practices. Brush and floss your teeth and gums regularly. Schedule a dental visit twice a year for a thorough oral exam and a cleaning. Don’t wait until you have a problem with your teeth or mouth to see a dentist.
To ensure overall good oral and general health, you can also limit sweets and use a fluoride toothpaste or rinse.
Fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, which can lead to more serious oral problems. Fluoride helps to:
- Lower the amount of mouth acid you have
- Strengthen your tooth enamel
- Make your teeth stronger by rebuilding minerals
Ask your dentist ways to improve your oral health and how to prevent dental emergencies. No matter what measures you take to prevent a dental emergency, they can still occur at any time, and you’ll want to be prepared. Your dentist should have information on preventative measures and what to do during a dental emergency.
Find a Dental Choice Location Close to You
If you’re having a dental emergency in Edmonton or Calgary, you can find a Dental Choice location nearest you and request an appointment. We strive to handle most dental emergencies compassionately and quickly at any of our locations.