Whether we faithfully heed the advice or not, we’ve all heard that we should see the dentist twice a year (or more if recommended) for a cleaning and checkup. At one or another of those appointments, some of us learned that we had a problem developing and made an appointment days or weeks hence for the dentist to take care of it.
But unfortunately, those aren’t the only kinds of dental appointment that there are. Sometimes a patient experiences a genuine dental emergency requiring immediate emergency dental services.
There are essentially four types of dental emergency. Let’s take a look at each and discuss what the patient can do to have the best possible outcome.
The Traumatic Injury Dental Emergency
Sadly, teeth are vulnerable to traumatic injury. You can bite down on something hard and end up with a broken tooth. Or a tooth can be knocked out entirely, perhaps because you fell or a ball smacked you in the mouth when you were playing your favorite sport.
When a permanent tooth comes out entirely, it’s sometimes possible to save it. Pick it up while avoiding touching the root. Gently clean it with water and put it back in the socket in the gum while making sure it’s oriented the right way. Hold it in place while you head to the dentist’s office for emergency dental care.
If you can’t put it back in the socket, put it between your cheek and gum or in a container filled with cold milk.
As a general rule, a tooth that has come out or is loose and in danger of coming out should receive urgent dental care ASAP within six hours. If you’re bleeding heavily, though, go to the ER. The blood loss is a more serious problem than the possible loss of the tooth.
Sometimes teeth merely end up chipped. In fact, this is the most common form of traumatic dental injury. If that happens, look for the pieces. It might be possible to reattach them. Make an appointment to see the dentist as soon as you can, and when you go in, take the pieces with you.
The Tooth Pain Dental Emergency
Sometimes a problem has been developing for a while and you didn’t know it. Or you did know it, but the symptoms weren’t anything you couldn’t live with, and so you put off seeing the dentist. Then pain flares up, and you need urgent dental care to relieve it.
The most common cause of that severe or persistent pain is tooth decay. Tooth decay is a bacterial infection that can spread through multiple teeth and get into the gum tissue also. Other possible causes include a loose filling or simply sensitive teeth, and interventions can range from something as basic as replacing the filling to doing a root canal. (A root canal procedure clears up infection that’s taken root deep inside a tooth and provides an alternative to extracting the tooth.)
The dentist will identify the cause of the tooth pain and provide the appropriate remedy.
The Gum Dental Emergency
Injuries and infections can afflict the soft tissue in the mouth as well as the teeth. Falls, sports injuries, beverages that are too hot, and accidental bites can all damage the cheek lining, tongue, and gums. Foreign material that gets stuck below the gum line is another source of trouble and potentially a painful periodontal (gum) abscess. A gum abscess is an infected pus-filled pocket and generally extremely painful.
If you injure any of the soft tissue in your mouth, rinse your mouth with dilute salt water. Remove foreign material if you can see any. If there’s bleeding, press something clean and damp to site of the bleeding for 10-15 minutes. If that doesn’t stop the flow of blood, call your dentist/periodiontist or go to the ER at once.
Sometimes you can get a foreign body stuck below the gum line out with dental floss or tweezers. But should that prove impossible, a dentist will need to remove it, and you need for that to happen ASAP to minimize the chances of damage and/or infection.
The Orthodontic Dental Emergency
These are actually few and far between. But occasionally a patient experiences infection or swelling of the gums, extreme pain or discomfort, or injury or trauma to the teeth, mouth, or face. In those instances, the patient should seek urgent dental care in the dentist’s office or the ER. If a piece of orthodontic hardware is loose, broken, or irritating your mouth, call the dental office for advice.
The Dental Emergency: The Bottom Line
You’ve seen that as we discussed the various types of dental emergency, specific measures were recommended for specific situations, for example, putting a tooth that’s been knocked out back in the socket. But the one thing stressed throughout the discussion is the importance of seeking emergency dental care as soon as possible.
Many people won’t need to be told this. Their discomfort will ensure they go for emergency dental services. But if you’re that rare individual tempted to tough the situation out and be a Stoic, don’t. The dental emergency won’t get better until you receive treatment, so call the dentist and let him or her relieve your pain.