What Should You Do in a Dental Emergency?

Knowing what to do in a dental emergency can make all the difference. To save your teeth, you should follow these instructions when you need urgent dental care.


what should you do in a dental emergency


Photo from Jayden Willis on Flickr. 

One moment you’re feeling great and having fun playing football. The next—you just knocked out one of your own teeth.

And you have no idea what to do next!

You’ve been taught what to do in some medical emergencies. After all, you know that you’re supposed stop, drop, and roll for fire or perform the heimlich when someone is choking. But what are you supposed to do for a dental emergency? 

Generally, there are 2 options for dental emergencies: go straight to the ER or care for the injury until you’re able to see your dentist. To help you decide what is best in different dental emergencies, here’s what you need to know:

Is Your Condition Urgent?

Not every dental issue requires a visit to the ER. Sometimes, it may be wiser financially to see your usual dentist if your condition isn’t in need of immediate medical attention. 

Non-Emergency Conditions

Even if these don’t require emergency medical care, it’s still important to see our dentist as soon as possible it you have one or more of the following problems:

  • Dull toothache
  • Lost filling, bridge, or crown
  • Broken or chipped tooth (unless there is sever pain)
  • Damaged 
  • Objects caught between teeth
  • Broken braces or wires

Urgent Dental Care Emergencies

Some dental problems can be treated at home until your dentist can see you, whereas others may require urgent attention. Here are some examples of dental emergencies.

  • Injured jaw
  • Painful swelling
  • A permanent tooth that has been partially or fully knocked-out
  • Severe toothache
  • Tooth infection that leads to fever, severe pain, and swelling

It’s crucial that you know the difference between non-emergency dental issues and problems that require urgent care. Call your dentist immediately if you experience any of those problems.

Handling Dental Emergencies

If you experience a dental emergency at night or over the weekend when dentists’ offices are closed, it’s important that you know how to deal with the issues in the meantime. This list compiled from WebMD can help you know what to do in different dental emergencies:

  • Toothaches - Rinse your mouth thoroughly with warm water. If you have food or an object lodges between your teeth causing pain, remove it with dental floss. If you are experiencing swelling, apply cold pack to the outside on your cheek or mouth in the area. You can also take an over-the-counter painkiller, but don’t put it against the gums near the aching tooth— it may actually burn the gum tissue.
  • Broken or chipped tooth - If you’re able, save any pieces of the tooth. Wash the broken pieces if any and rinse your mouth with warm water. Apply gauze to bleeding area until the bleeding stops or for about 10 minutes. Ice the area of the broken or chipped tooth on the outside of the mouth or cheek to relieve pain and swelling. 
  • Partially dislodged tooth - An extruded tooth will likely need immediate attention in order to  save the tooth. Leave the tooth in its socket, even if feels like it’s about to come out. Until you’re able to see your dentist, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever and apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth. 
  • Knocked Out Tooth - If you’re able to retrieve the tooth, rinse off the tooth with water if it’s dirty. Be sure to hold it by the crown and not the roots. Don’t remove any tissue fragment. Try to put the tooth back in it’s socket if possible, making sure that it’s facing the right way. Don’t force it in. If you’re unable to reinsert the tooth, put it in a small container of milk or a cup of water that contains a pinch of table salt. The highest chance of saving your tooth is seeing your dentist within 1 hour of it being knocked out, so it’s important that you seek attention right away.
  • Lost Crown or Filling - If you’re unable to see your dentist immediately, there are a few things you can do to handle the situation. If you’re experiencing pain, you can apply clove oil or powder to the sensitive area with a cotton swab. If you can, try to place the crown back over the tooth. You can use an over the counter dental cement, a denture adhesive, or toothpaste to hold the crown in place until you see your dentist. If you have a lost dental filling, you can also use a piece of sugarless gum to temporarily hold it in place.
  • Food/Object caught in teeth - If something lodged between your teeth is causing you pain, try to use dental floss the carefully remove it. Be gentle, and do not use a sharp object like a pin to poke at the object, as this could scratch your teeth and gums. If you can’t remove it yourself, see your dentist.
  • Loose brackets - You can use a small piece of orthodontic wax to temporarily reattach loose bracket. You can also use the wax as a cushion by placing it over the braces to it doesn’t scratch your mouth. In this case, it’s important that you see your orthodontist as soon as you can.
  • Broken braces or wires - Do not cut the wire yourself. Try using the eraser end of the pencil to push the wire into a more comfortable position to prevent it from poking other parts of your mouth. If you’re unable to reposition the wire, you can use a small cotton ball, orthodontic wax, or a piece of gauze to cover the end of the wire until you see your dentist. 
  • Tooth Abscess - An abscessed tooth is an infection at the root of a tooth, usually caused by severe tooth decay. If left untreated, they can lead to damaged tissue and teeth, with the infection spreading to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. So, it’s important that you see your dentist as soon as possible if you think you may have an abscessed tooth. In the meantime, rinse your mouth several times a day with a mild saltwater solution to ease pain.

Many dental practices have an emergency number that you can call if you are in urgent need of dental care when office hours are closed. If for some reason you are still unable to get in contact with your dentist, you should visit the ER in the event of a serious dental emergency. 

How to Prevent Dental Emergencies

Of course, accidents will happen no matter how careful you are. Still, there a few ways that you can help prevent dental emergencies:

  • Wear a mouthguard or facecage during high intensity sports or activities. 
  • Stick to a healthy dental regimen.
  • Visit your dentist regularly.
  • Avoid foods that are hard on your teeth.
  • Stop bad habits like chewing on pencils or fingernails.

You never know when a dental emergency could happen, which is why it’s important to be prepared. As you use these guidelines for urgent dental care, take preventative measures, and have access to affordable dental care, you should have nothing to worry about.

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