According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a dental emergency is a situation that is, “potentially life-threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding [or to] alleviate severe pain or infection.” Although that answer is very broad, it can be broken down into smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Pain Is the First Warning Sign of a Dental Emergency
Pain is usually the first warning you have of a dental emergency. Mouth pain can be some of the worst pain you may ever experience. Every dentist understands this fact, and their first goal is to relieve your pain. Although many people believe that dentists exist to cause pain, that couldn’t be further from the truth. No dentist wants to see their patient in pain.
With that in mind, we developed a few basic questions to help you determine if you are experiencing a dental emergency:
- Is your pain severe? This may be a sign of an emergency.
- Have you lost a tooth? Getting treatment quickly can mean the possibility of saving the tooth. Unless the tooth fell out naturally due to a known cause, this is an emergency.
- Are your teeth loose? Adult teeth should not be loose. This may signify a larger problem, even if the loose teeth are not accompanied by pain. Although not an immediate emergency, this should be checked by your dentist as soon as possible.
- Do you have signs of an infection? Infections in your mouth can be potentially life-threatening. This is a dental emergency. Swelling or lumps on your gums are signs that you should seek immediate dental care.
- Is your mouth bleeding? Bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal problems, but may also signify more serious problems. This is a potential emergency.
While not every dental problem is an emergency, the best way to be sure is to contact your dental provider. If staff feel that your problem is severe, they will advise you to visit the office. On occasion, they may refer you directly to the emergency room at your local hospital, or to a dental specialist better able to handle your emergency.
How to Handle a Dental Emergency
Nobody likes dental emergencies. They are generally painful and we just want the pain gone. Having a plan in place before a dental emergency is the best course of action. The first part of that is having a regular dentist. Routine dental checkups will eliminate a good number of emergencies before they become a problem.
Swollen Jaw or Mouth
For a swollen jaw or mouth, you should call your dentist immediately. They may want to see you that day, make a referral for you, or tell you to go to a local emergency room. This is a potentially serious problem that should be looked at by a medical or dental professional.
Swollen or Bleeding Gums
Although sometimes normal, this condition should be monitored. If the gums will not stop bleeding and there is also pain and swelling, there may be an underlying health condition. While not always an emergency, this is a condition that should be discussed with your regular dentist.
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Never ignore a toothache. This is a sign that something is not right. Especially in the case of sudden, unexplained toothache, please see a dentist as soon as possible. While waiting, over-the-counter pain relief may be useful in addition to cold compresses to relieve swelling.
Of all potential dental emergencies, you should never ignore an abscessed tooth. This is a potentially life-threatening condition. The symptoms of an abscess include swelling, sensitivity to hot or cold, toothache, possible swelling in the neck (lymph nodes) and face, and a bump on the gums. Although saltwater rinses will ease some discomfort and draw the infection to the surface, this is not a solution.
An abscess is a dental emergency and should be treated immediately.
Knocking out a tooth is never a fun ordeal. Whether you are a parent watching your children in a Little League game or an adult participant, you should know the correct way to preserve a knocked-out tooth and have a plan in place for emergency treatment. The American Association of Endodontists recommends:
- Find the tooth (do not handle it by the root)
- Rinse it gently with plain water
- Replace it in the socket if possible
- Keep it moist (in the mouth or a small amount of milk in a clean container)
- See a dentist within 30 minutes (although an endodontist is preferable)
Acting quickly often results in successfully saving a knocked-out tooth.
Exposed nerves may begin as a slight little twinge while eating something cold but can develop into excruciating pain. Seek care at the first sign of that twinge. Tell your regular dentist and work on a solution before it becomes a more painful emergency.
If a filling falls out, you should see your dentist as soon as possible. Although not a life-threatening emergency, leaving this situation uncorrected can cause additional problems in the future.
A broken crown creates a vulnerable area in your mouth. Seek immediate care from your regular dentist to replace the crown or perform other corrective measures.
Food/Object Lodged Between Teeth or Along Gum Line
That popcorn kernel that slid in between your teeth might seem like a minor issue. Unfortunately, if you have tried floss and brushing to remove it and it is still stuck, you should go see your dentist.
Broken Orthodontic Appliances
Braces are strong enough to move teeth, but they are also fragile. If you have a broken wire or bracket, please contact your orthodontist. In many instances, you can push the wire into a better position and secure it with dental wax until you can see your orthodontist.
Bleeding After an Extraction
If you have a tooth extraction, there will be bleeding. If, however, the bleeding does not stop within a reasonable period, please contact your dental office. Although probably not a dental emergency, excessive bleeding should be a concern.
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Preventing a Dental Emergency
The best way to avoid dental emergencies is routine dental care. Keeping your mouth healthy will prevent many problems. However, the next best plan is to have a plan. Aesthetic Dental Group can be a great part of that plan! Call to schedule an appointment for a cleaning and a checkup.