Dental emergencies differ in kind from the decay and disease that otherwise compromise dental health. A dental emergency is frightening and often very painful. When a tooth emergency occurs, prompt treatment is always required to ensure the survival of the affected tooth and to alleviate pain.
Dental emergencies are those that suddenly impact the structure or condition of teeth. Teeth may be knocked out, loosened, or fractured by injury and trauma, and fillings, crowns, and caps may loosen or fall out completely. These conditions all require immediate consultation with a dentist for a professional assessment of the damage. Emergencies that are not quickly addressed usually lead to increased pain and jeopardize physical as well as dental health.
What to do in Dental Emergencies
An avulsed tooth, one knocked completely out of the mouth, is very susceptible to damage. As the tooth breaks free and exits the mouth, connective tissue, blood vessels, and nerves are severely damaged. Tissues can grow and reconnect if the tooth is quickly and properly reseated in the jaw. Success is greatest when the tooth is re-established within an hour of injury.
The dentist will carefully sterilize the tooth and reposition it in its socket. The living tissue of the inner tooth may reconnect with that in the jaw, and the tooth may be returned to health. If the tissue fails to reconnect, root canal treatment will be necessary to forestall infection in the jaw.
To maximize success in saving an avulsed tooth:
- Have someone immediately call the dentist while you save the tooth.
- Pick the tooth up, handling it only by the crown, and rinse it in warm water. DO NOT ALLOW ANYTHING TO TOUCH THE ROOT INCLUDING YOUR HANDS.
- Place the tooth back into its socket if possible — if not, carefully tuck it into the cheek pouch to keep it moist, clean, and warm.
- If the tooth cannot be placed in the mouth, cover it with milk or saliva to protect it. Water can be used as a last resort to keep the root from drying out.
- See the dentist as quickly as you safely can.
Broken or fractured tooth
Teeth are strong, but they are also subjected to tremendous amounts of stress when chewing and biting. Breaks and fractures can occur when a tooth meets something as hard as, or harder than, itself. A fracture causes extreme pain if it extends down into the root where the nerve lies. Not all fractures reach this far, but a dentist should be consulted for even painless fractures to determine long-term health.
The dentist will determine the best course of action for the given break or fracture. If the fracture runs into the root, removal of the root or even the entire tooth may be necessary. In less severe cases, the tooth can be saved with a crown.
To maximize success in saving a broken tooth:
- Have someone immediately call the dentist.
- Rinse both the tooth fragment and the mouth with body-temperature water.
- Use gauze to control any bleeding.
- Use a cold compress to control swelling.
- See the dentist as quickly as necessary.
- Apply over-the-counter dental cement to the broken tooth to protect it if your dental visit isn’t immediate.
Lost crown or filling
A crown or filling most often comes loose when eating. Once the filling or crown is out, the tooth may be very sensitive to temperature changes. Lost crowns and fillings usually result from underlying decay that weakens the bond between the natural tooth and its repair.
A dentist can sometimes replace a crown if the tooth is not very decayed and the repair is done quickly. The loose crown can be kept cool and dry or, if possible, be temporarily reattached with over-the-counter dental cement. Fillings must be replaced as soon as possible.
To maximize comfort in the event of a lost filling or crown
- Apply clove oil or take medication any pain or swelling.
- Fit the crown onto the tooth if possible. Carefully clean it and attach it with dental cement available from the drugstore. Do not use any glue or adhesive other than dental cement or further damage may result.
- If the crown is lost, apply dental cement to the tooth to insulate and protect it from the temperature changes and food particles.
Loosened or dislodged tooth
A loosened or dislodged tooth results from trauma or decay. Often such a tooth is still connected by blood vessels and needs only artificial support to reestablish itself. If the damage is too great for the tooth to recover, root work becomes necessary.
To maximize comfort with a loosened or dislodged tooth
- Call the dentist
- Use medications to relieve pain and swelling.
- Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling.
Dental emergencies always require the knowledge and help of a professional dentist. Contact your dentist immediately in the event of a dental emergency. Even if the injury seems slight, a professional assessment is important to preserve long-term dental health.