What to Do If a Dental Problem Requires Immediate Treatment
Accidents happen, and knowing what to do when one occurs can mean the difference between saving and losing a tooth.
A knocked-out tooth is a dental emergency that requires urgent attention. If the appropriate emergency steps are followed immediately after the tooth has been knocked out, the chances are very good that the tooth can be reinserted and preserved by your dentist.
- Pick up the tooth by the top (crown) of the tooth. Do not touch the root(s) of the tooth.
- Rinse the tooth off very gently to ensure that it’s clean. Do not scrub the tooth or remove any tissue attached to it. Be sure to place a towel or washcloth in the sink so that the tooth does not go down the drain.
- If you can, gently place the tooth back into the socket. Hold it gently in place while trying to bite down.
- If you can’t place the tooth back in the socket, put the tooth in a small container or in a cup of milk. Note that the latter is preferable.
- Call your dentist immediately, since getting to the dentist quickly with your tooth in addition to following the steps above is critical for saving the knocked-out tooth. The longer you wait to re-implant the tooth in its socket, the less chance you have of the tooth “taking” and remaining viable.
Loose Tooth, Tooth Out of Alignment
If you have a tooth that is loose or out of alignment, you should call your dentist for an emergency appointment right away. In the meantime, you can try to put the tooth back in its original position using your finger with very light pressure. Do not try and force it. You can bite down to keep the tooth from moving. Your dentist may want to splint the tooth to the adjacent teeth (the teeth on each side) to keep it stabilized.
Chipped, Cracked or Fractured Teeth
If a tooth is chipped and doesn’t hurt, this usually does not constitute a dental emergency and you can wait a few days to see a dentist. However, it is important to be careful while chewing so as not to chip it more. Your dentist may simply be able to smooth the chip out or add some composite filling material to repair the tooth.
A cracked or fractured tooth is a serious issue constituting a dental emergency. Fractured or cracked teeth usually suggest that damage has occurred to the inside of the tooth as well as to the outside. Severe fractures are so extreme that the tooth cannot be saved. If you suffer a fractured tooth, call your dentist immediately for an emergency appointment and follow these steps:
- Clean your mouth out by gently rinsing thoroughly with warm water.
- If the fracture is caused by facial trauma, apply a cold compress to the area to minimize any swelling.
- Take acetaminophen (not aspirin) according to the packaging directions to alleviate pain.
- Never apply a painkiller to the gum because it can burn the gum tissue. This includes Orajel, which often is marketed for these types of procedures.
An X-ray will be needed in order for your dentist to properly diagnose the condition of your tooth. If the soft tissue inside of the tooth (the tooth pulp) is damaged, your tooth may need a root canal. If the pulp is not damaged, the tooth might only need a crown.
Some dentists make some of their permanent crowns in-office and place them in the same day; other dentists use an outside laboratory to make the crown. In this case you will have to wear a temporary crown while the laboratory makes a permanent crown. If the tooth cannot be saved, your dentist will inform you of the various alternatives for replacing missing teeth, such as implant-supported restorations and bridges.
Other Dental Emergencies
Basically, any dental problem that requires immediate treatment in order to save a tooth, stop ongoing tissue bleeding or alleviate severe pain is considered a dental emergency.
A severe infection or abscess in the mouth can be life-threatening and should be dealt with immediately. Your dentist might be able to perform the first stage of a root canal, or will refer you to an endodontist (root canal specialist) to open and drain the tooth and allow the abscess to drain. If your dentist can’t be reached, seek hospital emergency room care.
Dental Emergency while Traveling
If you are planning to travel out of the country or leaving for an extended vacation, during which you may not have ready access to dental care, it is important to see your dentist for a routine check-up before you leave. Your dentist can make sure that you don’t have any loose crowns or teeth, decay close to the nerve of a tooth that could cause you pain or develop into an abscess or other problems that could be easily fixed before becoming a dental emergency later.
For more information about safe care in the event of a dental emergency while traveling, contact the Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP), or the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT).
Being Prepared for a Dental Emergency
Because a dental emergency can happen at any time and place, the best thing to do is be prepared and don’t panic. Pack and keep with you a small dental first aid kit containing the following:
- Small container with a lid
- Name and phone number of your dentist
- Acetaminophen (not aspirin or ibuprofen because they can act as a blood thinner and cause excessive bleeding during a dental emergency).
Sources: MouthHealthy.org (ADA), YourDentistryGuide.com