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6 Common Dental Emergencies — And How to Handle Them

Your coworker falls and chips a tooth. Your child knocks one out playing soccer. Do you know what to do?

For most dental issues, one step is clear: call your dentist. Save their number in your phone, as well as their after-hours number, which you should be able to get from your dentist’s website or their pre-recorded after-hours message. Then read about the conditions below to learn what to do when minutes matter.

1. Toothache

Toothaches are the most common dental emergency and can be caused by everything from cavities to teeth grinding.

Treat it:

  1. Rinse your mouth using lukewarm water.
  2. Floss to remove any food or foreign objects from your teeth or gums.
  3. Place a cold compress on your face to reduce swelling or pain. Don’t use heat on your jaw as it can make pain worse.
  4. Take an over-the-counter pain medication.
  5. If the pain doesn’t go away in a few hours, call your dentist. He or she will advise you on whether to come in right away or make an appointment.

2. Abscess

A dental abscess is an infection that appears between the teeth and gums. It’s often accompanied by pain and small bump on the gum. 

Treat it:

  1. Rinse your mouth with salt water several times a day to reduce pain and pus.
  2. See your dentist as soon as possible.

3. Chipped or broken tooth

Broken teeth can often be saved.

Treat it:

  1. Rinse your mouth with warm water to clean and soothe the area.
  2. Place an ice pack on your cheek near the injury to keep swelling down.
  3. See a dentist as soon as possible.

If it’s a small break, your dentist may use a filling to fix the tooth.

If the break is serious, you may need:

  • A root canal to clean and seal the inside of your tooth to prevent infection or
  • A crown, which is a cap placed over a tooth to restore its strength, function and appearance.

4. Lost filling or crown

Unless you’re in a lot of pain, a lost filling or crown is not cause for alarm, even if you swallow it. But you do need to fill the cavity as soon as possible to prevent bacteria, food or other foreign objects from getting into the cavity.

Treat it:

  1. If you still have the crown:
    1. Clean the inside with warm water.
    2. Purchase dental cement or denture adhesive at a pharmacy to help hold the crown in place until you can see your dentist. Do not use household glues.
    3. If you don’t have access to adhesives or a pharmacy, use petroleum jelly.
  2. If you’ve lost the filling or crown, purchase dental cement and put it directly on the tooth surface to help protect and seal the area until you can get to the dentist.

5. Badly bitten lip, tongue or tissue

While these types of injuries are common and typically don’t require emergency care, they are painful, frustrating and will reopen easily, even while healing.

Treat it:

  1. Rinse your mouth with warm water.
  2. Apply pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding using gauze or a clean cloth.
  3. Place a cold pack on the outside of your mouth to prevent swelling.
  4. If the bleeding doesn’t stop within a few hours, go to the emergency room.

6. Knocked out tooth

When a tooth gets knocked out, it’s important to act quickly.

Treat it:

  1. Pick up the tooth by the top or the crown — not the roots — and put it in a glass of cool milk. (Milk has a similar pH level to saliva.)
  2. Don’t clean the tooth or touch the roots.
  3. Call your dentist.

If you can get to a dentist within 30 minutes, the tooth may be saved. The longer the tooth remains out of your mouth, the less likely it becomes that it can be put back, so consider calling a nearby dentist rather than your own if needed.

Children

If a child’s permanent tooth is knocked out, follow the steps above.

If a child’s baby tooth is knocked out, it’s typically not an emergency since baby teeth aren’t as well-rooted as permanent teeth.

  1. Have your child rinse their mouth with water.
  2. Apply a cold compress to keep swelling down and stop bleeding.
  3. Call your dentist to let them know what happened.
    1. If your child’s permanent teeth won’t be coming in for a while, your child may need a false tooth to ensure their permanent teeth grow in normally.
    2. If your child is experiencing a lot of bleeding or pain, your dentist can advise you whether to seek emergency treatment.

To read more about childhood dental health, click here.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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