Note: If you are experiencing a situation meeting the description of a true dental emergency (see content below) outside our office hours, please seek treatment at the nearest emergency room.
Health emergencies are often scary, painful, or both, and dental emergencies are no exception. The staff of Blackstone Family Dentistry hopes our patients never experience a dental emergency, but if you do we are ready to help you get through it.
We can accommodate last-minute appointments in emergency situations, and can even help you determine if the problem you are experiencing is actually an emergency or if it is safe to delay treatment.
During normal office hours you can call our staff with any questions about a possible dental emergency, but when our office is closed you can use the guide below to help you determine the best course of action. If there is any doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and see a health care provider right away.
What constitutes a dental emergency?
Simply put, a dental emergency is usually defined as a problem that can potentially result in the loss of a tooth or put your overall health or even your life at risk. The most common dental emergencies include:
- A knocked-out tooth
- A chipped or cracked tooth that is causing you pain or severe discomfort
- A bad toothache
- An abscessed tooth (a tooth that has become infected)
- Severe cuts in the mouth that won’t stop bleeding
We’ll go through each of those in more detail below and provide some guidance on how to deal with the situation.
When an adult tooth has been knocked out, it almost always constitutes a dental emergency. Believe it or not, a knocked-out tooth can sometimes be re-inserted, so it’s important that you take several steps right away if a tooth is knocked out:
- Try to handle the tooth as little as possible.
- If possible, re-insert the tooth in the socket and hold it in place by biting down on a wet tea bag or moist gauze while you wait to be seen by a dentist (make sure it is facing the right way when you re-insert it).
- If you can’t re-insert the tooth, then rinse it off and keep it in a container of milk or your saliva while you travel to the dentist or ER.
After taking the above measures, get to a dentist or an emergency room at a hospital as soon as possible. You have the greatest chance of saving a tooth if you can be seen by a dentist within an hour of it being knocked out.
For a knocked-out baby tooth in a child, follow all of the steps above. However, since baby teeth are supposed to fall out eventually anyway, a dentist may decide not to reinsert the tooth depending on the situation.
Chipped or cracked tooth
In the case of a chipped or cracked tooth, the situation is a little less clear-cut than with a knocked-out tooth. If the tooth is only slightly chipped and you are not in any pain, it’s probably ok to wait up to a few days before seeing a dentist. However, if you are in pain or the tooth is badly cracked or chipped, you should treat it as an emergency and take the following steps:
- Clean your mouth out with warm water and apply a cold compress to the outside of your face to keep swelling down.
- Save all the pieces of your tooth if you can, and get to a dentist as soon as possible.
- You can take acetaminophen to reduce pain if necessary, but avoid using a numbing gel since that can damage your gums.
An abscessed tooth happens when a pocket of pus in the tooth leads to an infection. It is a potentially life-threatening situation and should be treated immediately, because the infection can spread to your jaw or other areas of the body if left untreated.
Symptoms of an abscessed tooth include:
- Persistent toothache
- Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
- Tender lymph nodes in the neck area
- Swelling in your face
- A pimple-like bump on the gums near the infected tooth
If you believe you may have an abscessed tooth, see a dentist as soon as possible, and in the meantime you can rinse your mouth out with salt water several times to reduce the pain and draw the infection to the surface.
A toothache is another less-clear cut situation where it may or may not be a dental emergency.
On the one hand, a mild toothache is usually not an emergency and you can delay treatment for a few days until it is convenient to see a dentist. However, on the other hand, even a mild toothache could be an indication of an abscessed tooth if other symptoms are present (see above), so it should not simply be ignored or dismissed.
The best thing to do in the case of a mild toothache is to call our office and speak with a hygienist to determine if you need to come in right away or if you can wait a few days.
In the case of a severe toothache, treat it as an emergency and get to a dentist or the ER as soon as possible.
Cuts on the mouth or tongue
If you have a cut in your mouth, such as on your lip, gums, or tongue, clean the area gently with water and apply clean gauze to the area for 15-20 minutes. If that stops the bleeding, then it probably isn’t an emergency and you probably don’t need to go to the dentist or ER.
If the bleeding won’t stop, then treat it as an emergency and get to a dentist or the ER as soon as possible.
FAQs about Dental Emergencies
Here are some questions that we frequently get asked about dental emergencies, along with the answers.
Is a lost crown or filling a dental emergency?
Usually a lost crown or filling is not a dental emergency unless there are other problems present. In the case of a lost crown, you can try temporarily putting it back in place using denture adhesive or over-the-counter dental cement until you can see a dentist. In the case of a filling, you can stick a piece of sugar-free gum into the cavity as a temporary solution—again, just until you can see a dentist. In either case it is ok to wait up to a few days to see a dentist.
I think I have an emergency situation but I’m not sure, and it’s the weekend so I won’t be able to call a dentist for a few days. What should I do?
After reading the descriptions above about what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t, you should go to the ER and have the problem checked out if you still think it might be an emergency.
In any case, if you are in a lot of pain you should go to the ER right away rather than waiting till Monday to see a dentist.
Can I get an after-hours appointment in the case of an emergency?
No, we do not currently provide after hours care or weekend care. If you experience a dental emergency during those times that must be treated immediately, go to the emergency room at the hospital as you would for any other health emergency.