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Emergency Dentistry

Dental emergencies not only cause suffering and potential health issues for those that suffer them, but also negatively impact productivity, the economy and quality of life. Out of a reported 320 million school or work hours lost due to dental problems, about 92 million of them involve dental emergencies.

But what constitutes a dental emergency? How does someone with, for example, a serious toothache know whether or not they should immediately seek treatment? And what should someone do if they suspect they have a dental problem that requires immediate attention? Let’s take a look at these important questions, and provide some insight.

A dental emergency is a dental problem that needs immediate medical attention to relieve the pain, stop the bleeding, or save the tooth. The thing about dental emergencies is that they will often occur on a weekend, holiday, or in the middle of the night, and could lead to severe complications if left untreated.

  • An acute toothache
  • Broken or cracked tooth
  • A dislodged or loosened permanent tooth
  • Oral swelling
  • A visible abscess in gum tissue
  • Active oral infection

For example, a cracked or chipped tooth that does not hurt and can wait until your next visit to your dentist in a few days or weeks is not a dental emergency. But if the fracture is excruciatingly painful, or left sharp fragments that cause trouble with chewing or other activities, that is a dental emergency, and you need to see your dentist right away.

What is a Dental Emergency?

Unexplainable Toothache

If you have a toothache, you might take it lightly, or consider it to be just a painful nuisance. Sometimes, they result from food caught between teeth, and a quick floss and swishing with warm water can help relieve pain. However, if you are experiencing a sudden and unexplainable toothache that persists, that could be a dental emergency.

Toothaches can be a red flag or a warning that something is wrong in your mouth. If the problem is not resolved with a simple home remedy, you should look for a qualified emergency dentist such as the experienced professionals at Smile Design Dentistry to help diagnose and treat the issue.

Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is a condition caused by a bacterial infection that causes pus to build up inside the teeth or gums. Dental abscess symptoms include:

  • Tooth sensitivity to cold and hot
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • A bump (pimple-like) on the gums near the tooth
  • A persistent toothache
  • Swelling in the face
  • Fever

It can be a serious and even potentially life-threatening condition. An abscessed tooth is considered an emergency because the infection can spread into the surrounding tissue, jaw, or other areas.

Avoid trying to “pop” or drain the dental abscess yourself, as you would a pimple. Instead, start by rinsing your mouth with mild salt water several times to relieve the pain and pull the pus towards the surface. After that, schedule an appointment with an emergency dentist at the earliest opportunity for a safe abscess draining.

Knocked-Out Tooth

A heavy enough impact to your mouth or face can dislodge a tooth out of your mouth. Luckily, that does not necessarily mean your tooth is lost forever. But you need to take action immediately. According to the American Association of Endodontists, acting quickly on a knocked-out tooth can save it, and your dentist can replant it.

Start by picking up the tooth by its chewing surface without touching the root, and rinsing it gently. Natural teeth will dry and crack if not moisturized, so wrap the tooth in clean gauze and dip it in a glass of milk. The two help keep the tooth safe so your dentist can successfully put it back into its socket. After that, reach out to a dentist for emergency dental care.

Swollen or Painful Gums

Swollen gums usually signify an underlying condition, such as gum disease. One common form of gum disease is gingivitis (remember the commercials?), which causes swelling and irritation. Swollen gums can lead to more serious problems, including tooth loss.

If you have an area of painful swollen gums, it could mean a more serious issue is brewing underneath the surface. See your dentist immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.

Broken Crown

A broken dental crown should be considered a dental emergency if it causes severe pain and irritation or leaves sharp jagged edges. Broken crowns may expose the sensitive interior of your teeth to infections and damage.

If you have a broken crown, you need to schedule an emergency dental visit; otherwise, it may cause other problems, the least of which could include cutting the inside of your cheeks or tongue.

Cracked Tooth

Healthy teeth are strong, but a cracked tooth could happen due to a variety of reasons. For example, you could crack a tooth by biting down on something exceptionally hard, like a nut or bone. A cracked tooth may also be caused by grinding your teeth at night, which puts constant and undue pressure on your dentition. Natural weaknesses that develop in the teeth as you age might also lead to a fracture.

It doesn’t matter what caused the cracking, breaking, or chipping of your teeth, however. Whatever the reason, you need to see your dentist for proper treatment, particularly if the tooth fracture is painful. In the meantime, you may need to apply cold or ice to your cheek to temporarily relieve the discomfort.

Loose Tooth

Many factors could affect the jawbone or tissues that anchor dentition, and result in a tooth becoming loose. Causes could range from injury to receding gums, prior tooth loss, or bone loss in the jaw.

A permanent tooth that becomes loose could also be an indication there are some serious dental issues that need to be addressed immediately. Otherwise, you might lose it, and a few others along with it.

Reaching out to your dentist could sometimes be the only way to know the underlying cause of your loose tooth. An emergency visit to a provider can help manage the condition before it worsens.

Types of Dental Emergencies

The course of treatment for a dental emergency depends on the type of severity of the individual issue. That’s why it’s so important to visit a qualified professional as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. Here are some of the possible procedures that might be needed to address a dental emergency.

Dental Crown Fitting and Placement

An emergency visit necessitated by a severely cracked or chipped tooth may lead to dental crown replacement., The emergency dentist will place a temporary dental crown in your mouth, and order the creation of a permanent, custom-made crown. When the custom crown is ready, the dentist will fit it, replacing the temporary crown.


Fillings are a common emergency dental treatment, particularly if the patient has suffered the loss of an old filling. Although losing a filling doesn’t always hurt, it is always important to consult your dentist when it happens.

Tooth Reattachment

If you have a tooth knocked out and can retrieve it and bring it to a dentist urgently, the dentist may try to reset the original dentition back into your mouth.

Tooth Extraction

A dentist may consider extraction if an emergency visit and examination reveals there is too much tooth damage or decay. Extractions are common emergency dental treatments, but a root canal is usually the best procedure to consider if it’s an option. Extractions may require dental implants to prevent the remaining teeth from shifting out of place.

Root Canal Therapy

Your emergency dentist can treat your toothache right away with a root canal, whether it results from an infection, fracture or cavity, depending on the severity of the issue. This treatment involves minor oral surgery to remove the infected or decaying part of the tooth, along with the nerves supplying blood to its roots and inner chamber.

Emergency Dental Treatment

If you suspect you have a dental emergency, the most important rule is, “don’t wait.” You should reach out immediately to an experienced emergency dentist, or provider that specializes in emergency care. At Smile Design Dentistry, we provide top-notch emergent and other dental care while creating lasting, trustworthy relationships with our patients and their families.

Contact us for a consultation or to schedule an appointment today.

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