Thankfully, dental emergencies are few and far between for most us. It’s still a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you can and should do if you or a family member is ever faced with one. In some situations, knowledge and just a little bit of mental preparation can mean the difference between panic and problem solving. We’ve listed a number of emergency situations below, along with the simple steps that you can take to solve the problem until you can get in to see your dentist.
Toothaches: It’s a good idea to flush your mouth out with warm salt water, giving particular attention to the area that is bothering you. Use dental floss to remove any food that may be lodged in the area. If there is swelling, applying a cold compress to the outside of your mouth or cheek may help. Make arrangements to see your dentist as soon as possible. If the swelling is rapidly changing or making it difficult to breath or open your mouth or eye, this is a very serious emergency, and you should seek immediate emergency medical attention.
A common misconception is that applying aspirin or other painkillers directly to the gum below the affected tooth can provide relief, when in fact this may actually burn your gum tissue. If necessary, take painkillers internally, but do not apply them topically. Your dentist will be able to provide further help. Generally speaking, pain medications such as ibuprofen that have an anti-inflammatory effect work best for toothache pain. There are some over-the-counter solutions such as ambesol, which contains topical anesthetic that can help, but are usually most effective for soft tissue injury and not for the toothache itself.
Chipped or broken teeth: If there is bleeding, apply a piece of gauze to the area to stop the bleeding. Apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth, cheek, or lip near the broken or chipped tooth to keep any swelling down and relieve pain. Keep the area as clean as possible and see your dentist as soon as possible.
Extruded (partially dislodged) tooth: See your dentist right away. Until you reach your dentist’s office, to relieve pain, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek in the affected area. Apply pressure to the gums around the tooth if they are bleeding. If possible, you can try to push the tooth back into position, but this can be uncomfortable and might not be possible after the first few minutes as swelling will prevent the movement. Try not to wiggle the tooth back and forth if possible, and never force anything if it isn’t moving easily. You should try to prop the back teeth apart on the opposite side with gauze to prevent accidental biting pressure on the affected tooth.
Knocked-out/fully dislodged tooth: Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown (the part that is usually exposed in the mouth), and rinse off the tooth root with salt water. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments. If possible, try to put the tooth back in place, ensuring that it is facing the correct way. Never force it into the socket. If it’s not possible to reinsert the tooth in the socket, place it in a small container of milk or a cup of lukewarm water that contains a pinch of table salt. See your dentist as quickly as possible. Knocked out teeth with the highest chances of being saved are those attended to by a dentist and returned to their socket within one hour of being knocked out, but even then the chances are not great. Do not try to re-insert baby teeth if it is your child that has fallen as this can damage the developing adult tooth below. If a tooth is dislodged and re-inserted you will need antibiotics and a tetanus shot, so make sure to follow up with your dentist and physician.
Lost filling: Most teeth are okay without the filling in place, although the tooth can be very temperature sensitive. As a temporary measure, stick a soft piece of non-toxic candle wax into the cavity or apply an over-the-counter dental cement or othodontic wax. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Lost crown: If the crown falls off, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. Once again, non-toxic wax can help with temperature sensitivity. Don’t try to put the crown back in yourself, as there will not be any cement to stick it on, and there is a risk of swallowing or aspirating the crown. Keep the lost crown dry and clean and bring it to your dentist. It may be possible to glue it back on, but often when crowns fall off it is because the underlying tooth has broken so it may not always be a simple re-cement.
The dentists at North Burnaby Dental Group always have time in their schedule for emergencies. Because there are several dentists that work at different times of the day it is always possible to be seen if you are in pain. We also have an on-call phone number if you are not sure what to do. If something happens, stay calm. And don’t forget to assess the situation. The first priority in an accident that can cause damage to the teeth is that there is no head injury. Sometimes as parents or first responders we are so focused on the broken tooth, we forget to assess for concussions or other head injuries. When you call into the office, the receptionist will be able to offer personalized instructions for your situation, and depending on the severity of your emergency, will always schedule the necessary appointment. North Burnaby Dental Group‘s office is open seven days a week, and is always available to accommodate your needs.