Emergency Dentistry

Dental Emergencies are no fun

Nothing can ruin holidays or fun gatherings faster than a dental emergency! Whether it happens to you or a loved one, knowing how to avoid them and how to respond to them can make a big difference. This post will give you tips on how to avoid dental emergencies, and how to handle the ones that cannot be avoided.

Most Common Dental Emergencies

There are several different types of dental emergencies, and they can be categorized as either traumatic or infectious.

Traumatic Dental Emergencies

Any trauma to the face can result in dental emergencies.  A traumatic dental injury occurs when a blunt force causes cuts to any of the soft tissues in or around the mouth, breaks or cracks teeth, or knocks a tooth out completely.  This type of injury is very common in young children who are likely to fall or play active sports.  Dental injuries are also a consequence of auto accidents or physical conflicts.

The most common type of traumatic dental injuries are cracked or broken teeth.  The severity of this injury, as well as your need to seek emergency care, varies based on the size of the crack.  If the broken area is very small and not sensitive, you do not need to seek emergency dental care.  However, if the broken area exposes the nerve inside the tooth, you need immediate treatment.

For cuts to the lips, cheeks, or tongue, the need for emergency care depends on the size of the cut and your ability to stop the bleeding.  If you cannot stop the bleeding with light pressure, or the size of the cut is larger than one centimeter, it probably needs stitches.  If you are not sure, seek emergency care.  It is better to be safe than sorry!

If a tooth or multiple teeth are knocked out completely (avulsed), you must seek emergency  dental treatment.  Find the knocked-out teeth and bring them with you.  Place them in a cup or Ziploc baggy with enough saliva (spit) to cover the entire tooth.  If this is not possible, hold the avulsed tooth inside your mouth.  This gives you the best chance of success with reimplanting the tooth into its socket.

Infectious Dental Emergencies

More common than traumatic injuries are infectious dental emergencies.  This category includes toothaches and dental abscesses because they are a result of bacterial infections.  Both cavities and gum disease can turn into emergency toothaches or abscesses.  The reason we say “toothaches or abscesses” is to point out a very important fact:  not all dental infections hurt!  It is possible to have a severe dental abscess without the pain of a toothache.

Bacteria can cause infections in the mouth in a few different ways.  The most common dental infection is through a deep cavity that reaches the nerve inside a tooth.  An infected nerve causes pain, inflammation, and swelling.  If left untreated, the bacteria inside the tooth spread around the end of the tooth’s root.  The longer the infection is present, the more it spreads, destroying the bone around the tooth and leading to an abscess.

In rare cases, dental infections can spread to the brain, the bloodstream, or the airway and kill you.  It isn’t worth taking a risk!  Treat any dental infection as an emergency.

How to Prevent Dental Emergencies

They say that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Preventing or avoiding a dental emergency saves you not only the cost of an emergency dental visit, but also the pain and inconvenience of the emergency itself.

How to Prevent Traumatic Dental Injuries

Not all injuries are preventable, which is why it is so important to prevent the ones that are!  If you or a loved one play an active sport, commit to wearing a protective mouthguard.  Athletic mouthguards protect your teeth from cracking, breaking or being knocked out.  They also make you less likely to suffer large cuts to the soft tissues.  Use any and all protective safety equipment available for your specific activity.

If you clench or grind your teeth heavily at night, wearing a nightguard greatly reduces your risk of cracking and breaking your teeth with this bad habit.

How to Prevent Dangerous Dental Infections

The key to preventing dangerous dental infections is consistent professional dental care, including dental exams and professional teeth cleanings.  Your dentist and dental hygienists are experts at detecting dental problems before they reach a state of emergency.

Treating dental problems early is always less expensive than waiting until an emergency happens.

In addition to consistent professional dental care, commit to taking great care of your teeth at home.  Brush twice each day, once after breakfast and once before bed.  Do not miss a single night of flossing.  Add a protective mouthrinse if you are at risk for cavities or gum disease.  Good home care lowers the chance that you will develop dental problems!

How to Handle Dental Emergencies

The first step in handling any of these dental emergencies is calling your dentist.  The best-case scenario is one in which you already have a good relationship with your dentist through consistent dental care.  Most dentists have either emergency office hours or an on-call dentist to handle emergencies.  Knowing this ahead of time will save you some crucial time when an emergency happens.

Emergencies to Address at a Later Date

This heading sounds like an oxymoron: if it is an emergency, you shouldn’t put things off until later.  However, not everyone defines “emergency” the same way.  Here is a list of things that are not true dental emergencies and can be addressed at a later time.

  • A chipped or cracked tooth that causes no pain
  • A small cut on the inside of the mouth that stops bleeding quickly
  • Bleeding gums with no pain
  • A loose tooth with no pain
  • A permanent tooth coming in behind or to the side of a baby tooth that is not loose

Emergencies to See Your Dentist about Now

Not all emergencies need the emergency room.  In fact, unless a dentist or oral surgeon is on staff at a hospital, the emergency room is unable to address many dental emergencies.  The following is a list of dental problems that require emergency treatment by a dentist right away. (If you are unable to see your own dentist or the on-call dentist specified by your own, you should seek care at an emergency dentist.)

  • An avulsed (completely knocked out) tooth
  • A crack or break in a tooth that is painful or exposes the nerve inside the tooth (if you can see bleeding from inside the tooth or a small red dot, this is the nerve)
  • An injured tooth that has been moved into a different position
  • Food debris or foreign body impacted into the gums (like a popcorn kernel)

Emergencies to Take Straight to the ER

There are some dental emergencies that need treatment as soon as possible in an emergency room setting.

  • Any large swelling in the head or neck
  • Toothache pain that cannot be managed with over-the-counter medications
  • Large cuts requiring stitches
  • Cuts that will not stop bleeding
  • A broken jaw

More Questions about Emergency Dentistry?

If you have a dental emergency, call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location to ask about emergency office hours or our system of on-call emergency dentists.