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What to do in a Dental Emergency

A dental emergency never seems to happen at a convenient time. It’s the weekend. It’s the day before your wedding. It’s your first day of vacation.

Ignoring dental trauma or tooth discomfort can be more painful and more expensive in the long run if you do not treat your mouth with care. Here are some common dental health emergencies and what you can do to get back to your old self quickly.

Toothache – Many times a toothache is due to the nerve root of the tooth being irritated. This irritation of inflammation of the central portion of the tooth is called the pulp. The pulp becomes sensitive to pain when tooth decay, trauma or infection is present. If infection becomes severe, you may have an abscessed tooth.

You should seek professional care when the pain does not subside with over-the-counter medication or if swelling of the gums or face occurs. A fever is another sign of infection. Contact your dentist and alert them to swelling or fever as soon as possible so you can begin an antibiotic regime and get immediate treatment if necessary.

Broken teeth – If your tooth breaks, collect any of the pieces you can retrieve and save. Rinse your mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress if swelling begins. Call your dentist as soon as possible.

Knocked out tooth – Permanent tooth loss is considered an emergency. Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the end that is exposed in your mouth and rinse the tooth root off with water if it’s dirty. Do not scrub the tooth if any tissue fragments are visible. If possible, try to put the tooth back into the socket of your gum. Make sure the tooth is facing the correct direction. Then call your dentist immediately. A knocked-out tooth has the highest chance of being saved if you return the tooth to the socket and see your dentist within the hour. Note: if the tooth will not return to the socket properly, place the tooth in a small container of milk and call your dentist immediately.

Lost filling – If you lose a filling insert a piece of sugarless gum over the area or purchase dental cement from your local pharmacy. Contact your dentist for an appointment as soon as you can.

Lost crown – Retrieve your crown, if possible, and contact your dentist for an appointment. If you cannot see your dentist immediately, here are a few temporary options:

  1. Swab clove oil over the area to diminish any pain.
  2. Apply denture adhesive to the crown and put it back into the socket. Never use Super Glue!

Travel can add an extra level of stress to dental emergencies. Read our blog post about travel and oral health for tips on handling dental problems while away from home.

Dental emergencies tend to be more expensive without dental insurance. If you do not have a dental plan, look into purchasing one. Dental insurance is a primary indicator of access to preventive care, and preventive care can help you avoid many of the above dental emergencies

Resource: Handling Dental Emergencies, March 15, 2009, reviewed by Dr. Darren Williams,

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