Dr. Michael Handler

How to Handle Different Types of Dental Emergencies

By Dr. Michael Handler

Any kind of dental emergency can be a frightening experience, and in most cases it’s important to get the right medical attention as soon as possible. In most instances, however, there are some things you can do to reduce the immediate discomfort and minimize your risk of complications. We’ve listed some of the most common dental emergencies here, and the steps you can take before you get to see a dentist. 

#1: Dental Trauma 

Dental trauma refers to an injury to the teeth and/or surrounding area, including the soft tissues of the lips, tongue, and inner cheeks. This kind of injury is a common dental emergency, that can often result in tooth loss or damage. Whether an injury is caused by a fall, a vehicle or sports accident, or any other blow to the mouth or head, this type of emergency usually happens without warning and at the most inconvenient times. Until you can get to a dentist, here’s what you need to do to improve the outcome of your situation:

Chipped, cracked or fractured tooth

Whether your tooth cracks as a result of an injury or simply from biting into a hard food item, you’re likely to feel it. From shooting pain when you’re chewing to a sudden, intense ache caused by hot or cold temperatures, if your pain comes and goes it’s possible you have tooth damage resulting in the exposure of the pulp. 

The best thing you can do is to take over-the-counter pain medication and to bite down gently on clean, moist gauze or cloth. This will help to relieve the symptoms until you can get it seen to, and the sooner you can have dental treatment, the better your outcome. Cracked or fractured teeth can often be repaired with a filling or crown, and in many cases they function perfectly for many years afterwards. 

Dislodged or knocked-out teeth

More than five million teeth get knocked out every year in children and adults, but that doesn’t mean those teeth are lost for good. Proper emergency action can save a knocked-out tooth so it can be replanted successfully and last for years to come. If the trauma to your mouth results in a tooth actually falling out of your mouth, the tooth can be saved by doing the following:

  • Rescue the tooth immediately and pick it up by the chewing surface. Try not to touch the root with your fingers.

  • Rinse the tooth off carefully with clean, fresh water to remove any loose dirt and bacteria it may have picked up from the ground. Don’t use soap or any other chemicals that can kill the root, and avoid wrapping it in a tissue or cloth. 

  • Put the tooth back in the socket if you can, holding it by the crown or chewing surface and inserting the root carefully into the gap. Hold in gently in place and bite down slowly until it’s back in the correct position. The sooner you can do this the more likely you are to save the root. 

  • If you aren’t able to keep the tooth in its socket until you get to the dentist, either put it in your mouth next to your cheek or carry it in a container with a little milk to keep it moist. Don’t use water, because the cells of the root can’t handle that for more than a few seconds at a time. 

Try to get to a dentist within 30 minutes of your injury. This will maximize your chances of saving the tooth, although it’s often possible to do so even up to a couple of hours after the trauma. 

Fractured jaw

If your jaw has been dislocated, fractured or broken as a result of trauma you’ll likely experience pain and swelling, numbness and bruising in your face. You might have bleeding from your mouth as well as difficulty breathing, speaking or chewing, depending on how serious the damage is. Until you can get emergency dental treatment, you can apply an icepack wrapped in a towel to your jaw for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. This helps reduce the pain and can also prevent the tissues from becoming damaged. Avoiding eating anything besides soft foods or liquids and don’t put pressure on your jaw until you’ve had it checked out. 

#2: Tooth Abscess

A tooth abscess develops when you get bacteria into the pulp of a tooth, either through a dental cavity or a chip or crack in the enamel. Once the bacteria spreads down to the root it causes inflammation and infection, which usually results in a swollen gum area and pain when you’re chewing. The different types of tooth abscess we see most often are:

  • A periapical abscess, which affects the tip of the tooth root.

  • A periodontal abscess, which develops on the gum beside the tooth root, and

  • A gingival abscess, which comes up on the gum. 

Any of these can cause pain that spreads from the site to your ear, jaw or neck, redness and swelling, sensitive teeth, bad breath, fever, and a foul taste in your mouth. The pain might get worse when you lie down or when you bite or chew in that part of the mouth. 

An abscess might not be a dental emergency initially, but if you don’t get treatment it can rupture and spread the infection to other parts of your jaw, neck and head (including the brain). Until you can get that emergency appointment, try to avoid biting or chewing on that side of the mouth and take over-the-counter pain meds, but don’t waste any time. 

#3: Loss of Filling, Crown or Appliance

It might not seem like a big deal initially if a crown or filling falls out, or you break a denture or other appliance. You should get dental attention as soon as possible, however, because any of these issues can cause changes to your bite that will affect your overall dental health in the long term. All of them can result in your mouth being inadequately supported, which could cause your other teeth to loosen and shift. 

A missing filling can also expose the root to bacteria, resulting in infection or an abscess. Wherever possible, rescue your crown or broken appliance and bring it with you to your emergency dental appointment so the dentist can decide whether to refit any part of it or use it to model a new appliance. 

Few dental issues that crop up unexpectedly can be left to chance. It’s always better to get an appointment at the earliest possible opportunity so your dentist can help you avoid long-term effects. Even if it turns out not to be an emergency, the sooner you get it resolved the less discomfort and stress you’ll have to endure. 

For more information on emergency dental appointments, please book an appointment with our dentists in Scarborough at 416-267-4661, or click here to book online

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