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What should I do in the event of a dental emergency?

Fortunately, most dental emergencies are usually minor in nature. For example, a lost filling, a chipped tooth, or a loose crown can usually wait until your dental office is open the next day for further evaluation and treatment. However, some emergencies should be seen and treated the same day. I've included some dental conditions which should be seen right away:

  • Knocked out tooth: If this is a baby tooth, time for a Tooth Fairy visit. No attempt should be made to reimplant a baby tooth. If this is a permanent tooth, wrap the tooth in moist gauze or place the tooth in a glass of milk or water. Do not clean off any dirt or debris on the tooth. Hold the tooth by the crown only. Try to get into your dental office within 30 minutes for the best chance of a successful reimplantation. After your dentist evaluates the situation, a decision will be made on whether reimplantation of the tooth is possible.
  • Broken jaw: If you are hit in the face and you see or feel a depression or bump on your jawbone, or if your bite is off, you should be seen by your dentist or your local emergency room the same day for further evaluation and treatment.
  • Lip or tongue laceration: A small cut on the lip or tongue can many times be controlled with gentle direct pressure with gauze on the cut. If the cut is large or not controlled with a few minutes of biting on gauze, then you should see your dentist or local emergency room for evaluation and treatment.      

 

Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving or losing your tooth. Here are some helpful tips:
  • Knocked-out tooth: Keep the tooth moist at all times. Hold the tooth by the crown, and if the tooth is dirty, rinse the root in water. Do not scrub the tooth or remove any attached tissue fragments. The tooth must not be left outside the mouth to dry. If possible, gently insert and hold the tooth in its socket. If it cannot be replaced in the socket, put the tooth in a container with milk. Take your tooth to a dentist as soon as possible -- ideally, within 30 minutes after reinsertion.
  • Cracked or broken tooth: Rinse the mouth with warm water to clean the area. Put cold compresses (like an ice pack or a washcloth with ice wrapped inside) on the face to keep any swelling down. Go to the dentist right away. If you can find the broken tooth fragment, bring it with you to the dentist. Wrap the tooth piece in some wet gauze or a wet towel if possible.
  • Jaw possibly broken: Apply cold compresses (like an ice pack or a washcloth with ice wrapped inside) to control swelling. Go to your dentist or a hospital emergency department immediately.
  • Objects caught between teeth: Gently try to remove the object with dental floss. If you're not successful, go to the dentist. Do not try to remove the object with a sharp or pointed instrument.
  • Toothache: Rinse the mouth with warm water to clean it out. Gently use dental floss to remove any food caught between the teeth. Do not put aspirin on the aching tooth or gum tissues. Go to the dentist as soon as possible.
  • Bitten tongue or lip: Clean the area gently with a cloth and put cold compresses (like an ice pack or a washcloth with ice wrapped inside) on the area to keep the swelling down. If bleeding is heavy or doesn't stop in a short period of time, go to your dentist or an emergency center.
The first thing you should do in the event of a dental emergency is contact your dentist. If you really do have an emergency, they will find time in the schedule to see you. In the meantime, there are a few steps you can take to try and save your teeth. For a cracked or broken tooth, use warm water to rinse your mouth and keep the area around your tooth clean. A cloth soaked in cold water can also be used to help minimize swelling. If your tooth is knocked out completely, rinse it under water, but don’t remove any soft tissue that might still be attached. If you can gently place the tooth back in its socket you should. Use your finger to hold it in place. If not, soak it in a cup of milk on your way to the dentist. If your entire jaw is broken, use ice or something else that’s cold to minimize swelling, and go to the emergency room immediately.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.