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dental emergency

How to Manage a Dental Emergency


Fortunate is the person who has maintained good oral hygiene and managed to avoid accidents to the mouth and subsequent dental difficulties. For most, however, the teeth/mouth has presented trouble from time to time. Ideally, that trouble has been temporary and was predictable or easily corrected, like the eruption of wisdom teeth. But for some, trouble is more serious and may require care. And for the very unfortunate, dental care might be needed immediately. Those either faced with a dental emergency at the moment, or who simply want to be prepared should one ever arise, might find it helpful to have some idea about what to do in such circumstances. Therefore, let’s answer the following questions: What is a dental emergency? and “What should be done in a dental emergency, and what care should be sought?”

Dental emergencies

All issues involving teeth should be taken seriously and examined by a dentist; even seemingly mild discomfort might be the first stages of something more serious, and the longer dental care is postponed, the worse these conditions might become. That said, sometimes dental situations can wait, especially if they occur at an inconvenient time (while the sufferer is at work, or in the middle of the night) and/or do not involve unbearable pain. A chipped tooth (provided it does not hurt or the chip does not cut the mouth), a crown that falls out, a broken denture, toothache when eating hot or cold food, or bleeding gums while brushing teeth will require a dental visit – and the sooner the better – but can wait if they must.

Other scenarios require urgent medical attention. 

If an adult (permanent) tooth is knocked out or greatly loosened because of an accident

Tooth loss is an emergency mainly because teeth that have been knocked out can be put back and restored to normal function if they can be found and the right kind of care is quickly administered.

Similarly, an injury in which the bones of the jaw are broken or the gums and tissue of the mouth are seriously damaged qualifies as a dental emergency even if the teeth are not lost or broken.

Persistent and severe pain in the mouth or teeth

Many people experience the occasional toothache due to sensitivity to temperature or, if cavities are present, when eating sweet foods. If the pain does not go away when the cause of it is corrected … if it is caused by an injury that has chipped, cracked, or broken the tooth, and if it cannot be managed with over-the-counter medication … it is a dental emergency.

Persistent and large amounts of bleeding

Overenthusiastic brushing or flossing can lead to light gum bleeding. An emergency would be enough blood to fill the mouth with no signs of stopping.

Condition of the mouth which results in swelling, chills, fever, or difficulty swallowing

All of these might be caused by an infection that could be life-threatening. This is decidedly a dental emergency.

If faced with any of these circumstances, try and keep a level head. Avoiding panic is always helpful.

Seeking care

In most cases, the best help would come from a dentist, since they are specifically trained in the care of the mouth and surrounding tissues. This can seem to defy common sense since emergencies are usually addressed in a hospital’s emergency room.

A trip to the ER is the right course of action in some cases, such as massive bleeding, signs of infection, an injury that not only hurts the mouth but severely injures other parts of the face or body, and anything that results in loss of consciousness. These conditions are potentially life-threatening.

However, if the issue does not fall into these categories and is primarily an injury to the mouth, a visit to the emergency room is not advised. Most of these do not have dentists on staff and are not well-equipped to handle injuries to the teeth. If no dentist can be found, the ER can provide assistance with pain management but only until a dentist can be consulted.

If the emergency occurs during business hours, nearly any dentist would clear their schedule to treat a full-fledged emergency, even without an appointment. For emergencies that happen at night, in the early mornings, or on weekends, many dentists have after-hours phone numbers to call for treatment advice. If the condition arises out of town and away from one’s regular dentist, many cities and towns have emergency dentists who specialize in just these cases.

Additional actions

Many dental emergencies involve the loss of a tooth. The tooth can potentially be reattached if it is located and tended to quickly. Before going to the dentist, the following actions can help:

If the tooth can be reattached, its roots must have nothing on them that might give rise to infection. If the tooth has dirt or other debris, it should be gently rinsed in warm water. Once rinsed, the tooth should be kept from drying out and away from anything that might allow for germs. The best place for it is in its socket if possible. If that isn’t possible, it should be placed in a container with either milk or clean water with some salt added.

How to manage a dental emergency

When facing an obvious dental emergency, it can be difficult to keep an even keel. Nevertheless, a calm demeanor, the right actions, and a timely visit to the right people to give the right care will be invaluable and will go far toward helping you get through it.

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