An emergency dentist is a dental professional you go to see when anything sudden happens to your mouth. They most commonly offer treatment to walk-ins and someone is on call 24/7.
Waiting until the next day might not be an option. Make sure you are aware of where the nearest emergency dentist is, so you know where to go if need be.Creative Commons
What is a dental emergency?
A dental emergency can be a potentially life-threatening situation that requires action to alleviate pain, stop bleeding, or prevent damage to the body. Emergencies are sometimes caused by traumatic injuries. More often, however, they are the result of long-term neglect of oral health and hygiene maintenance.
Dr. Matthew Stewart
A large majority of dental emergencies are due to tooth decay, periodontitis and infection.
Knowing about first aid or where to go for help if something happens can protect your health. For your own good you should be able to differentiate between issues that are dangerous and those that are simply unexpected. The latter can safely wait until your next scheduled appointment.
Here is a comprehensive guide about the most common dental emergencies you might have to deal with.
The category of immediate dental emergency compiles cases that need fast action. This usually means you have about an hour.
Immediate emergencies often involve intense pain. There are a few things you can do from home. But this may not be enough.
You should seek medical help as soon as possible. Not acting might mean losing a tooth, serious damage to your health, or even dangerous to your life.
Knocked out tooth
A tooth that completely falls out of the socket is usually caused by impact such as a fall or other traumatic injury. If you act quickly, the tooth may be reimplanted and kept alive.
What to do?
- Pick up the tooth by the chewing part but don’t touch the root.
- Rinse it with water if it’s dirty. Do not use soap or any other chemicals.
- Try to place the tooth back into the hole. Push it in gently and hold in place. You can bite down softly.
- If you are bleeding or swollen, keep the tooth moist and just bring it to a specialist.
- Transport the tooth in your cheek, in milk, or in an emergency preservation kit (if you happen to have one). Water can make the cells on the root expand and burst, while milk and dedicated substances contain antimicrobials and keep the correct pH.
Visit the nearest dentist, endodontist, or oral surgeonwithin 30 minutes. They may be able to perform reimplantation.
An abscess or severe infection can be life-threatening. It can spread to other areas of the body. If the infection reaches your throat, you could have trouble breathing or swallowing.
The symptoms you should look for are:
- swelling (sometimes even on your cheek or jaw),
- knots on your gums,
- pus, or
- a fever.
Act as quickly as possible if you are in severe pain or have trouble breathing.
What to do?
- Call a dentist’s office to make sure they will accept walk-ins.
- Rinse your mouth with warm salt water a few times. This can reduce pain and will bring the pus to the surface.
If you can’t reach a dentist, go to the nearest general doctor or an emergency room. The gums might be rinsed with antimicrobial water floss. You will likely get oral antibiotics.
Facial pain and soft-tissue bleeding
Soft-tissue bleeding is usually a sign of gum disease but can also be the result of trauma or infection. If the second, you should immediately seek medical help. If you are taking blood thinners, that is likely to make the bleeding worse.
What to do?
- Rinse your mouth.
- Try to locate the source of the bleeding or pain. If this is near a tooth that is loose or moving, visit a dentist immediately.
- If your teeth are secure, gently brush them and drink plenty of water.
- You can take OTC painkillers if necessary.
If bleeding doesn’t stop within 30 minutes, you should seek help, ideally from a dentist. You will have X-rays that will help determine if all your teeth are intact. Often, a dental splint is used to hold your tooth in place while the root heals and reattaches to the socket.
Urgent emergencies should be treated within a few hours. The situations described below are contingent upon the risk of getting a serious infection.
You can often control damage or manage pain using at-home solutions and methods. Bearing long-term effects of emergencies, professional help is still necessary.
Cracked or fractured tooth
A cracked or chipped tooth is commonly the result of an injury. In order to classify it as an emergency, there must be pain. You may feel:
- erratic pain when chewing, or
- sudden pain when your tooth comes into contact with hot or cold temperatures.
If you act quickly, there is a high chance that your tooth will continue to function as normal for many years.
What to do?
- Immediately rinse your mouth with warm water.
- If you have any swelling, use a cold compress to slow it down.
Go and see a dentist or endodontist regardless of how severe the crack is. You will have an X-ray and the tooth will be mended. If the fracture is more severe, the tooth may require a crown or may need to be extracted.
A tooth loose in its socket is most commonly a sign of gum disease. Other causes include injury and teeth grinding. The second case is when it is considered an emergency.
What to do?
- If you see swelling, gently brush your teeth.
- Rinse your mouth with salt water.
Visit a dentist on the day you notice a problem. If you have gum disease you might have an emergency SRP, preceded by an X-ray. If any of your teeth are moving, they will probably be secured with a dental splint temporarily.
Fractured dental work
Dental work requires care and maintenance, but sometimes even when you do everything right, something goes wrong. Damage to crowns, bridges, or fillings is common and can negatively affect your health.
What to do?
- Remove the piece from your mouth to prevent you from swallowing it or breathing it in.
- Contact your dentist.
- Try to keep the piece that fell out, it might be used again.
- If your entire crown fell off, you can take advantage of dental glue, available in drug stores. This should be done as an emergency measure. It is not an alternative to a professional fix. You should see a dentist as soon as possible.
Your dentist will probably take an X-ray to assess the damage. He or she will put the dental work back in or install a temporary restoration.
Depending on how severe the injury or pain is, the following issues can wait until the following day. If symptoms subside, you might be able to forgo a visit until your next checkup.
In the case that you are unsure, you can contact a dental professional by phone before setting up an appointment or simply showing up at the office.
Most often, a tooth will hurt because of decay, fracture, or infection. The pain can make it difficult to chew, concentrate, or even sleep.
What to do?
- Make sure your mouth is clean. Brush, floss, and rinse your mouth to remove any food debris.
- Wash your mouth with saltwater solution or hydrogen peroxide rinse.
- Keep a cold compress on the area that is most painful. Ten minutes on, ten minutes off.
- Take OTC pain relievers. Do not chew aspirin or hold it on yoru gums, as some online sources instruct to do. This could cause gum issues later, such as chemical burns. .
If the pain does not subside for a few days, visit a dentist or endodontist. In the case of decay you might need a filling or even a root canal treatment.
Traditional metal and ceramic braces can sometimes behave unexpectedly. The biggest concerns in terms of an emergency are wires that have snapped or become loose, and ones that need to be clipped. Other cases include protruding and poking wires.
What to do?
- If your wire has become loose or if it snapped, contact your orthodontist. You will probably need to make an emergency visit to the office.
- In the case that a wire has slipped out of the bracket and is irritating your gum or cheek, snap the sharp end off with nail clippers or place a cotton swab or orthodontic wax between the metal and tissue.
- If the main problem is that wires are irritating your gums or cheek, you can use dental wax to make edges less sharp. It can be removed in an emergency room if it is causing you serious discomfort.
- Mouth sores caused by such issues can be treated with numbing gel, such as Orasol.
Call your orthodontist and schedule the appointment. During the visit your wires will be adjusted or replaced as necessary.
Dentures need to be relined once in a while, but if it is causing you discomfort it is a good idea to contact your dentist. This is especially true if you are undergoing chemotherapy. An ill-fitting denture can lead to an infection or even oral cancer.
What to do?
- Remove your denture and rinse your mouth with chlorhexidine mouthwash if available, otherwise use a salt water rinse.
- If your gums are inflamed, don’t wear your denture for at least 24 hours. You might have to keep a liquid diet.
Call your dentist to discuss your problem. Something might be simply trapped in your denture and lead to inflammation. After your gums heal you might be able to wear it again. Your dentist will instruct you on whether you need to make an office visit for an adjustment, a reline, or a new denture fitting.
Non-emergency dental issues
Distinguishing between what is and isn’t a dental emergency is especially important during the spread of COVID-19.
The following are not dental emergencies:
- regular visits for exams and cleanings,
- recall visits,
- routine radiographs,
- preventive therapies,
- regular visits for braces,
- treatment of cavities that aren’t painful,
- removal of teeth that aren’t painful,
- restorative dentistry including treatment of asymptomatic carious lesions,
- aesthetic dental procedures.
If any apply to you, you can safely reschedule your visit until a later date. It is vital for your own safety as well as the safety of dental staff. You should only break quarantine if the procedure you need is indispensable for your health or life, or if you are in moderate to severe pain.
Avoid dental emergencies
Prevention is always the best measure, especially when it comes to your health. You should take care of your mouth, just as you would with any other body part.
- To prevent physical injuries, avoid physical activity without a mouthguard.
- Do not use your teeth as tools. They are not meant to serve as bottle or can openers, or to pierce through tape.
- Visit the dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
- Make sure to care for your hygiene. Brush your teeth after each meal and floss at least once a day to prevent swelling and caries. Using a mouth rinse following brushing/flossing is also beneficial.
How long can you delay a dental emergency?
This depends on how severe your injury or issue is. For instance, infections or knocked-out teeth should be treated immediately. On the other hand, moderate tooth pain can wait until the next day.
Do emergency dentists accept walk-ins?
Yes. The whole idea of an emergency dentist is that patients can go when something sudden happens. It’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure the office will have the time and resources to treat you, and to give them a chance to prepare for your arrival.
Can you go to the ER with a dental emergency?
Yes, you can. In less urgent cases, you will receive no more than a temporary solution there. This is usually just an antibiotics or painkillers prescription. Nevertheless, it is still the best option in case of serious emergencies, like a broken jaw or infection complication.
How much does an emergency dental visit cost?
Emergency visits at the dental office are typically charged as normal. This means that whether you need an extraction, a root canal, or an X-ray, you will pay as much as you would at a regular dental appointment.
Visiting an ER for problems focusing on teeth and gums, on the other hand, can be excessively expensive. You are better off going to a dentist. They will provide specialist care at a smaller fee.
Can you go to an emergency dentist with no insurance?
Yes. The emergency dentist will charge you as they would normally. If, however, you are insured, your plan is likely to cover the fees with accordance to your rates.