Like cavities and gum disease, many dental problems develop gradually after months (or years!) of dental-health neglect. But sometimes, pain or sensitivity in your teeth can come on suddenly, and you may need immediate dental care, either at the emergency room or from your dentist.
It’s not always easy to know whether a tooth, gum, or mouth problem requires emergency care — or what to do about it. In fact, most Americans are unprepared to handle a dental health emergency, according to a survey of 1,000 participants.
Think your mouth issue is a dental health 911? Here’s a handy guide to situations that are generally considered dental emergencies:
- Lip or tongue bite with excessive bleeding. If you accidentally bite your lip, tongue, or other soft tissue in your mouth, clean the area and apply a cold compress to decrease swelling. If the bleeding is severe, or will not stop, go to the emergency room.
- Broken or cracked tooth. In the case of a broken or cracked tooth, call your dentist immediately. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, rinse your mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress outside the affected area.
- Damaged braces. If your braces become damaged, call your orthodontist right away. Some instances of damaged braces need to be fixed immediately; others can wait until your next appointment.
- Injury to your jaw. If you suspect you may have broken your jaw, apply a cold compress to the area and immediately go to your dentist’s office or to the emergency room.
- Loose tooth. If one of your teeth is partially dislodged, see your dentist right away — they may be able to save the tooth. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and apply a cold compress to the affected area to relieve pain.
- Tooth that has been knocked out. Grasp your lost tooth by the crownand rinse its root if it is dirty, avoiding scrubbing the tooth or removing pieces of tissue that may be attached. You can attempt to reinsert the tooth into its socket in your mouth, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to see your dentist quickly. The American Dental Association recommends placing the tooth in milk, which acts as a preservative until you can get to a professional.
- Lost filling or crown. When one of your fillings or crowns falls out, put the filling or crown in a safe place and call your dentist to make an appointment. Applying clove oil to the sensitive areas in your mouth and dental cement from the drug store on your tooth’s surface can help decrease sensitivity, but check with your dentist before doing these things.
- Object lodged between your teeth. If something gets stuck between your teeth, try to gently remove it with dental floss. If the object still won’t come out, call your dentist. Depending on the situation, he or she may want to see you quickly.
- Painful swelling. Call your dentist to schedule an appointment if you have painful swelling in your mouth, as you may have an abscess, an infected pocket of pus that can lead to a serious systemic infection. Until you can see your dentist, try rinsing your mouth with saltwater to relieve the pain and pressure.
- Pericoronitis. This is an infection that occurs when your wisdom teeth don’t come into your mouth properly. If you experience symptoms of pericoronitis, which may include swollen and irritated gums, a bad taste in your mouth, or bad breath, or you are not able to fully open your mouth, see you dentist as soon as you can.
- Sudden or severe toothache. If your tooth is aching, rinse out your mouth with warm water and gently floss around the tooth to make sure there is nothing lodged between your teeth. Call your dentist if your toothache does not go away.
Some dental emergencies can lead to life-threatening infections or permanent damage if not treated rapidly, so if you’re in doubt, always call your dentist. The earlier you seek treatment for a dental problem, the better your chances are for a full recovery and continued dental health.