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How to Deal with a Dental Emergency

A dentist inspects a man’s teethThere are various types of dental emergencies, and it’s crucial to see your dentist as soon as possible when having a dental emergency — this will increase the chances that you’ll be able to save your tooth and avoid other complications. However, you also need to know what constitutes a dental emergency and what you should do in the meantime before you can get to the dentist.

What to do in a dental emergency

If you have any of the following situations, you need to make an emergency dental visit. You should also take certain precautionary actions before you see the dentist.

  • Chipped or broken tooth

Collect and rinse the broken tooth pieces. Rinse your mouth with warm salt water and apply a cold compress to your cheek or lip near the broken tooth to relieve swelling until you see the dentist.

  • Knocked-out tooth

Rinse the tooth and place it carefully back in its socket. If that’s not possible, transport the tooth to the dentist’s office (ideally, within the hour) in a small container of milk or water with a pinch of salt in it.

  • Extruded (partially dislodged) tooth

Apply a cold compress on your cheek or lip on the way to the dentist.

  • Lost filling

When you’ve lost a filling, you will usually find that food gets stuck inside or between the teeth. Do your best to keep this area free from food debris, by brushing, flossing and rinsing with warm salt water, if needed, after each time you eat until you get in to see the dentist.

  • Lost crown

Apply clove oil (which can be purchased at the drug store) to your tooth and coat the inside of the crown with dental cement or toothpaste before reinserting the crown and heading to the dentist.

At-home treatments for potential dental emergencies

The following scenarios might be dental emergencies, or they might not be. In some cases you can take action to fix the problem yourself, either temporarily or permanently.

  • Objects stuck between teeth

Try to dislodge the object yourself using dental floss. If you can’t get it out yourself, call your dentist.

  • Broken braces

You might be able to temporarily fix a broken brace wire by using the eraser end of a pencil to push the wire into a more comfortable position before you can see the orthodontist. If not, cover the sharp end with a cotton ball or orthodontic wax and get thee to an orthodontist ASAP!

Is a toothache or tooth abscess a dental emergency?

Bad toothaches and especially abscessed teeth are certainly a serious issue and need to be addressed with haste. However, depending on the extent of your symptoms, they don’t always constitute a dental emergency.

Call your dentist if you have a throbbing toothache or other signs of a tooth abscess — pimple-like swelling near gums, swollen neck glands, foul breath or bitter taste — and she should be able to prescribe you antibiotics over the phone to help address the infection before it’s convenient to come into the office for treatment.

If the tooth infection has caused swelling that threatens to block your airway, is causing you difficulty breathing, or is accompanied by a high fever or nausea with vomiting, then it can’t wait — you need to seek immediate medical treatment.

It’s important to know how to deal with a dental emergency, since waiting too long without taking action can cause you to lose your tooth or even threaten your health. Be sure to share this article with friends and family on Facebook to spread the word about what to do in a dental emergency.

Eli Thornock
I was born and raised in eastern Washington and I received my dental training at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, Class of 2011. Since then, I have been practicing in a private practice setting and have also completed more than one hundred hours of continuing education.
Eli Thornock
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