Dental emergencies can strike unexpectedly, causing oral pain and discomfort. What’s worst about them is when they occur outside regular business hours when your dentists are away from their offices. Fortunately, many dental clinics are now offering same-day emergency appointments. Knowing how to identify a dental emergency and taking prompt action can make a significant difference in preserving your oral health.
In this article, we will discuss common dental urgent situations and provide quick treatments to manage symptoms before seeking professional emergency care.
What Is Considered a Dental Emergency?
A dental emergency is any sudden and severe oral health issue that requires immediate attention to alleviate pain, prevent further damage, or save a tooth.
Some common dental emergencies include:
A severe toothache is an intense and persistent pain in or around a tooth. This can be due to impacted wisdom teeth, tooth decay, or abscessed teeth.
Its symptoms include:
- Intense pain. Severe tooth pains can be excruciating, making concentrating, sleeping, or performing daily activities difficult.
- Indication of an underlying issue. A severe toothache often indicates an underlying dental problem, such as an infection, abscess, decay, or nerve damage. These issues require immediate attention to prevent further complications.
- Potential spread of infection. If the cause of the toothache is an infection or abscess, prompt treatment is necessary to prevent the infection from spreading to surrounding areas, including the jaw, face, or even the bloodstream.
- Impact on oral function. Severe toothaches can significantly affect chewing, speaking, and overall oral function, impacting your quality of life.
- Risk of tooth loss. Ignoring a severe toothache can lead to irreversible damage, potentially resulting in tooth loss. Treating the issue promptly can increase the chances of saving the affected tooth.
Broken or Fractured Teeth
A fractured or broken tooth refers to a tooth that has suffered damage, ranging from a minor chip to a significant breakage. It can be caused by teeth grinding or bruxism, trauma, chewing hard foods, or large fillings.
It is considered a dental emergency in some instances due to the potential complications and symptoms it can cause.
Symptoms of a broken or fractured tooth include:
- Pain and sensitivity. A broken or fractured tooth can cause pain, especially when biting or chewing. It may also lead to increased sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.
- Visible damage. Sometimes, you may see a broken or fractured portion of the tooth. It can appear as a chipped, cracked, or partially missing tooth.
- Rough or jagged edges. The edges can become rough or jagged when a tooth breaks or fractures. This can irritate the tongue or inner cheek and cause discomfort.
- Bleeding. If the fracture extends into the gum line, it may cause bleeding. This usually occurs when the breakage is severe or involves trauma to the surrounding tissues.
- Difficulty eating or speaking. A broken or fractured tooth can make eating certain foods challenging or speaking properly. Discomfort or pain while performing these actions is common.
This dental issue, also known as an avulsed tooth, refers to a permanent tooth completely dislodged from its socket due to trauma or injury. It is considered a dental emergency due to the time-sensitive nature of the situation and the potential for saving the tooth.
Symptoms of a knocked-out tooth include:
- Missing tooth. The most obvious symptom of a knocked-out tooth is the absence of the tooth in its socket. The space left behind is noticeable and may be accompanied by bleeding.
- Pain and discomfort. The act of having a tooth knocked out can cause immediate pain and discomfort in the affected area. Other signs of pain may include swelling and sensitivity.
Dental abscesses are characterized by an infection in or around the tooth root. It is considered a dental emergency due to the potential complications it can cause and the need for immediate treatment. This condition has various treatment options, including an emergency tooth extraction and root canal therapy.
- Severe toothache. One of the primary symptoms of an abscessed tooth is a persistent, throbbing toothache. The pain can be intense and may radiate to the jaw, ear, or neck.
- Swelling. The presence of an abscess often leads to visible swelling in the affected area. It can be seen as a bump or a pimple-like lesion on the gums near the infected tooth.
- Sensitivity to temperature. The infected tooth may become highly sensitive to hot or cold temperatures. Consuming hot or cold foods and beverages can exacerbate the discomfort.
- Painful chewing. Biting or chewing on the affected tooth can be extremely painful, leading to difficulty eating or speaking.
- Bad taste or odor. An abscessed tooth may cause a persistent bad taste in the mouth or a foul odor due to pus, bacteria, and decay.
- Fever and general malaise. In more severe cases, the infection from an abscessed tooth can lead to systemic symptoms like fever, general malaise, and swollen lymph nodes.
Lost Filling or Restoration Like Dental Crowns
A lost filling or dental restoration, such as a crown, occurs when a previously placed dental filling or crown becomes dislodged or falls out. That’s why you should consider wearing a mouth guard during physical activities if you have filling or restoration to prevent dental injuries.
These are considered dental emergencies in certain cases due to the potential discomfort and risks associated with the exposed tooth structure.
- Sensitivity and discomfort. One of the primary symptoms of a lost filling or restoration is increased sensitivity or pain in the affected tooth. The exposed tooth structure can be more sensitive to temperature changes and pressure from biting or chewing.
- Visible damage. Sometimes, you may notice a visible gap or hole where the filling or crown used to be. This can be seen in the mirror or identified by feeling with the tongue.
- Rough or jagged edges. When a filling or crown comes out, the remaining tooth structure may have rough or jagged edges that can irritate the tongue or inner cheek, causing discomfort or soreness.
- Changes in bite alignment. The absence of a filling or crown can affect the alignment of your bite. You may notice changes in how your teeth fit together when you close your mouth or chew.
How to Manage Symptoms Before Seeing a Dentist
While waiting to see an emergency dentist, here are some dental care measures you can take to manage symptoms and minimize discomfort:
- Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater to reduce swelling and dental pain. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water and rinse your mouth gently. This can help reduce swelling and cleanse the affected area.
- Apply a cold compress or ice pack. Place a cold pack or ice wrapped in a cloth on the affected area to reduce swelling and numb the pain. Apply it for 15 minutes at a time with short breaks in between.
- Use over-the-counter pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can relieve temporary pain. Follow the instructions on the packaging or consult a healthcare professional for the appropriate dosage.
- Use dental wax or sugarless gum. If a broken or jagged tooth is causing discomfort, applying dental wax or chewing sugarless gum and placing it over the sharp edges can provide temporary relief until you see your dentist.
- Avoid hot and cold foods. Temperature extremes can worsen tooth sensitivity. Stick to lukewarm or room-temperature foods and avoid hot or cold beverages until you receive professional care.
- Preserve a lost filling or crown, if possible. If possible, try to locate the lost filling or crown. Keep it in a safe place to bring it with you when you visit your dentist. They may be able to reattach or use it as a reference for replacement. Sometimes, you can temporarily re-cement a lost crown with certain materials like vaseline, toothpaste, or sugar-free gum until you can see your dentist. Ensure to rinse your mouth with warm saltwater before doing so. However, if you’re unsure of what to do, it’s best to contact your dentist.
- Contact a dental professional. Call your dentist as soon as possible to explain the situation and schedule a same-day appointment. They will provide further guidance based on your specific oral injury.
Finding an Emergency Dental Office for Urgent Dental Care Services
When you experience a dental emergency, your priority should be getting the necessary treatment immediately. Finding an emergency dentist or after-hours dental office nearby can help reduce the time it takes to receive care and minimize potential complications from untreated conditions. You can start by asking your regular dentist if they provide emergency treatments or have recommendations for after-hours dentists in your area.