What to do During a Dental Emergency
An emergency, by definition, is not something for which you plan. While you cannot plan when a dental emergency occurs, you can prepare yourself for one so that you are ready to act. When you know what to do, you can handle the situation more quickly and with more confidence.
What are Common Examples of Dental Emergencies?
A dental emergency is a situation that requires immediate care by a healthcare professional. The most common dental emergencies are from tooth infections or traumatic injuries caused by sports injuries, car accidents, and falls. These incidents often affect the face, mouth, and/or jaws. Your dentist should be adequately trained to manage most dental trauma, infections, and pain. However, if you’re experiencing any of these severe symptoms, visit your local emergency room as soon as possible:
Swelling in the mouth, face, and/or neck
Visible pus draining in the mouth, face and/or neck
Swollen lymph nodes near an infected tooth
Inability to open and close your mouth normally
Trauma to an area of the mouth with bleeding you cannot stop
Trauma with a broken or dislodged tooth
After you have ruled out that you do not need to proceed to an emergency room you should see your dentist for an evaluation and plan of necessary treatment.
Some people experience a dull ache or discomfort in their mouths, while others need to seek urgent care to control their unmanageable tooth pain. Though most toothaches don’t warrant an emergency visit to your dentist, the best course of action when you notice any dental pain is to schedule an appointment with your dentist for an evaluation as soon as you can. It is important to understand that the source of your pain, not the severity, will determine the necessary treatment.
If someone you know is experiencing tooth discomfort, refer them to your dentist, or read our blog to learn the common causes and treatments.
Chipped or Broken Teeth
A heavy blow, a fall, or clenching in the mouth can chip or break teeth. The severity of the damage determines the type of dental treatment necessary for repair. Some chipped teeth are easily rebuilt with tooth-colored filling material while some broken teeth may require full coverage crowns. Other fractures extend into the nerve chamber of the tooth, requiring root canal treatment and dental crowns to restore the tooth function.
In some cases of blunt force, the tooth may appear intact but suffer a fracture along the root, underneath the gums. Unfortunately, root fractures cannot be repaired, so the tooth may need to be removed and treated with a dental implant or bridge. Your dentist will advise you on the best treatment for your case.
Loosened or Displaced Teeth
If the surrounding jawbone absorbs the force of the injury rather than the tooth itself, the tooth may become loose or moved from its original position. This type of injury requires some stabilization for a few weeks to allow the bone to heal around the roots. In time, you may notice a color change to the tooth if the nerve inside has “died,” indicating the tooth may later need a root canal treatment.
Knocked Out Teeth
A tooth that has been knocked out in one piece requires immediate attention. Your dentist can re-implant the tooth into the socket if you are able to get to your dentist quickly. These teeth will also likely require stabilization and root canal treatment for long-term success.
Visible Swelling Due to An Infection
How do you know when an infection is life-threatening? Many people mistakenly assume that pain is the best indicator of a problem. In fact, pain does not tell us much about the severity of an infection. Swelling is a much more important sign. If you see visible swelling in your mouth, jaw, cheek or neck, seek care from your dentist or local hospital immediately.
What is the Process When I Visit my Dentist for a Dental Emergency?
Before your dentist carries out any treatment described in the previous section, he or she must first obtain an accurate diagnosis of the extent of the damage or injury. This begins with a clinical evaluation of the tooth or teeth and the surrounding tissues. It must also include dental imaging or close-up x-rays to determine any damage to the internal tooth structures, root or surrounding bone.
If your dentist determines that specialist care is necessary (i.e. complicated root canal treatment or jaw fractures), he or she will refer you to the proper dental specialist and follow-up with you after that treatment is complete.
Dental Trauma in Children
Many children experience falls that cause lacerations to the lips, tongue and gums (a “busted lip”). Dental trauma in children who still have their primary teeth is typically less complex than that in adults. If a baby tooth is knocked out before its natural time, there are typically no major complications but it’s best to still be evaluated by a dental professional.
You should seek dental care any time your child is complaining of pain, or you are unable to stop the bleeding of a cut in the mouth.
What are the Dangers in Untreated Dental Trauma for Adults?
If you experience a traumatic injury to the teeth and do not seek dental care, you could have some long-term complications. For example, many of the injuries we described earlier can cause death of the nerve tissue inside the tooth. Sometimes, this occurs without any pain at all. Nerve injuries will most likely require root canal treatment. If you choose not to proceed you risk developing a dangerous infection.
Anytime you have an injury to the mouth, ask your dentist to evaluate the area so that you can catch any problems before they develop into emergency situations!
How Can We Prevent Dental Trauma?
It is impossible to prevent every dental emergency. You can prevent the trauma associated with sports injuries by investing in a custom-made athletic mouthguard. These professional appliances cover and protect the teeth from blunt force trauma. They also provide a barrier between the teeth and the surrounding soft tissues so cuts or lacerations are far less likely. A custom athletic mouthguard creates a rubber separation between the upper and lower teeth, which produces a shock absorber effect that reduces the risk for tooth or jaw fractures.
Next Steps: Dental Trauma and Emergencies
While you cannot prevent every dental emergency, you can educate yourself so that you know what to do when one happens. Make sure your family is prepared by saving your dentist’s office and emergency contact numbers in your phone. Then speak with others in your community to make sure they have a plan too! Talk to your dentist about how you can handle the various emergencies we have discussed in this article. Know who to call and where to go so that you receive the fastest and best care possible!