Let’s face it: nobody wants to deal with a dental emergency. From aches and pains to broken teeth, there’s no doubt that dental emergencies can be alarming and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, they happen, and understanding how to deal with them effectively is a critical part of keeping your mouth healthy and happy for years to come.
Here’s what you need to know about how to handle a dental emergency for yourself or a family member.
Dental Emergencies, Categorized
Obviously, there’s a large difference between a simple toothache and a true dental emergency. But how do you tell the difference between the two? What requires immediate care from a professional and what can you tend to at home? Here’s a list of true dental emergencies to watch for:
- Missing teeth. Knocked-out permanent or adult teeth are common forms of dental injuries, and are especially prevalent in people who play contact sports, such as hockey or soccer.
- Cracked teeth. Cracked teeth can vary in severity, but are always essential to pay attention to. In some cases, a chunk of the tooth can come missing. In others, the entire tooth may crack in half, exposing the root and creating a painful situation.
- Bit tongues or lips. While it’s one thing to bite your lip while chewing your food (and is decidedly not an emergency), it’s entirely another to bite through your lip or tongue during an impact. This is a true dental emergency that requires attention from a professional immediately.
- Objects stuck in the mouth. From food particles to foreign items, anything stuck in the mouth requires immediate dental professional attention.
Other dental emergencies may include infections, fractures, and acute dental pain.
Handling Dental Emergencies
The way you’ll handle a dental emergency depends, in large part, on what, exactly, the emergency comes from. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common dental emergencies and how to handle each:
Toothaches vary in severity from the inconvenient to the nauseatingly painful, and all must be dealt with accordingly. If you’re suffering from a toothache, start by rinsing your mouth with warm water or warm saline solution.
Using dental floss, floss gently between each of your teeth. This will help to dislodge any stuck food. If the mouth is swollen, apply a cold compress to the outside of the cheek, over the area that is in pain.
Take an aspirin to reduce inflammation and contact your dentist for an appointment as soon as possible. If the toothache is surface-level, you may also apply a topical analgesic like Orajel to numb the pain.
Chipped or Broken Teeth
Chipped and broken teeth are some of the most damaging dental emergencies, and can lead to infections and pain if left untreated. To handle a chipped or broken tooth in the short-term, rinse the mouth with warm water or saline solution.
Swish gently over any broken pieces. If the tooth is bleeding, apply a firm gauze compress to stop the bleeding. Once the bleeding has stopped, add a cold compress to the outside of the mouth, cheek, or lip around the area of the broken tooth. This will help reduce swelling and pain and prepare the area for treatment.
Contact your dentist for an appointment as soon as possible.
Knocked-out teeth are about as bad as chipped teeth when it comes to pain and long-term destruction. To deal with a knocked-out tooth, retrieve the lost tooth by the crown, rinse it with water if the tooth is dirty, and put the tooth into a small container of milk, or salted water.
Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. If you can see the dentist within an hour of having the tooth knocked out, the chances of the tooth being returned to your socket are very high.
If you have an extruded (partially dislodged) tooth, it’s essential to see your dentist immediately. While there’s not much you can do to threat this dental condition at home, applying a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek can help cut down on pain and reduce swelling.
When you see your dentist, they’ll be able to come up with a plan to help replace the tooth in its socket and get you on your way again.
Objects Stuck Between Teeth
If you have an object caught between your teeth, use dental floss to remove the object, if possible. Be gentle so as not to disrupt your gums or cause bleeding or irritation. If you can’t remove the object, contact your dentist.
Whatever you do, do not use a pin, knife, or other sharp object to attempt to dislodge the object. This approach can cut gums, scratch the tooth surface, and make it more difficult to promote good dental health.
Missing Fillings or Crowns
When a crown or filling goes missing, it’s an alarming feeling. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a complete emergency. If you lose a filling or crown, stay calm. In a pinch, you can apply a piece of sugarless gum to the area where the cavity is exposed.
Over-the-counter dental cement will also work to fill the space and prevent your root from being exposed and vulnerable. If you managed to find the crown or filling, keep it with you and make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
Braces are durable and long-lasting, but that doesn’t mean they don’t break from time to time. If a wire on your braces breaks or is sticking out of the bracket or band, use the eraser of a pencil to push the wire back into a more comfortable position. If you can’t reposition it, cover the end with something like gauze until you can get to the doctor’s office. Don’t cut the wire, as it could put you at risk for inhaling it, or damaging the overall integrity of your braces.
Abscesses are infections that take place at or around the root of a tooth, or in the gums and space around the teeth. A serious condition that can lead to bone infections, damaged tissue, and migrating infections that can be very dangerous or fatal.
Because abscesses are some of the most dangerous dental health problems, it’s essential to get to the dentist as soon as possible. In the meantime, rinse your mouth with a saltwater solution (½ teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water) several times a day. Do not try to rupture or pop the abscess, as this can exacerbate infection.
Avoiding Dental Emergencies
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, when it comes to dental emergencies. With that in mind, here are a few actionable tips to avoid dental emergencies in the first place:
- If you plan to play sports or participate in recreational activities, specifically any sport that involves contact, be sure to wear a mouthguard at all times.
- Don’t chew hard things like popcorn kernels, ice, hard candy, and anything else that could potentially crack a tooth or cause damage to dental tissue.
- Don’t ever use your teeth to open or cut things. Instead, reach for scissors or a knife to do these jobs.
- Make regular appointments with your dentist, especially if you have crowns, braces, or fillings.
If you do suffer a dental emergency, don’t panic. Dentists understand that dental emergencies happen, and most maintain some time to deal with these emergencies in their schedules. Call your dentist and provide as much detail as possible about your condition to get an appointment quickly. Our team is here to assist you with anything you may need, so give us a call today!
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.