You may have heard the term and wondered “What is emergency dentistry?” Good question! In this article, we’ll explore what an emergency dentist is, what services they cover, and when you should seek out their services.
When you stop and think about it, a lot of oral health issues can feel like an emergency if you’re the one experiencing it. But in reality there are just a few situations that fall into the “emergency” category. From a patient point of view, it’s important to understand what those are so that you’ll know when it’s appropriate to seek emergency dental services. As is the case with an emergency room in a hospital or calling 911, we shouldn’t be looking for emergency care if we don’t really need it. And the fact is that the vast majority of oral health issues can wait until you can schedule an appointment with the dentist or, at the very least, until the next business day during regular hours when your dentist’s office is open.
What Qualifies a Dentist as an “Emergency Dentist”?
An emergency dentist is one that has the experience to treat a variety of situations that are true dental emergencies (a list of which appears later in this article). While it’s true that all dentists should be able to effectively treat these conditions, only some are willing offer their services either on a walk-in basis during regular business hours, or as an on-call professional who will be there for the patient whenever their services are required.
An emergency dentist should not only have the experience and training to treat a wide variety of dental issues; he or she should also be capable of quickly diagnosing the patient’s condition and immediately determining what treatment is needed. Think in terms of an emergency room physician in a hospital. An emergency dentist possesses the same type of skillset with a focus on oral health.
What Conditions are Considered to be Emergencies?
For the majority of oral health issues, it’s fine to wait until you can schedule an appointment with your dentist to have them treated. But in some instances, you’ll need to be seen right away. Those are the times when it’s appropriate to contact an emergency dentist. What follows are some of the most common conditions that are considered to be emergencies:
- An extremely bad, persistent toothache – Almost everyone has had a toothache at one time or another. Usually, they go away on their own. Sometimes, you may need to use an over-the-counter pain medication or a warm salt water rinse to ease the discomfort. But if you have a severe toothache that can’t be treated at home – one that persists and doesn’t lessen – it’s considered to be a dental emergency.
- A loose tooth or a tooth that has already been lost – Anytime you lose a tooth or experience a tooth that is loose in the socket, you should contact an emergency dentist. No matter what the cause may be – whether you lose a tooth due to an injury, or have a loose tooth due to some oral health issue like gum disease, for example – losing a tooth is always categorized as a dental emergency. If you do lose a tooth, it’s possible that the tooth can be saved. Pick it up by the tip (not the root), rinse it off with clean water, and keep it in a container of milk until you can get in to see your dentist.
- Bleeding and/or swollen gums – By “bleeding,” we don’t mean the small amount of blood that you may see if you brush and floss too vigorously. Instead, we’re referring to bleeding from the gums that is significant and won’t stop. The same holds true for gums that become suddenly swollen and painful. These conditions are dental emergencies.
- Swelling in the mouth or jaw – We mentioned swollen gums earlier, but other situations involving sudden swelling constitute an emergency as well. This includes any type of sudden swelling around your mouth or your jaw, particularly if you don’t know the cause. This kind of swelling can indicate an infection or some other condition that requires immediate treatment.
- Losing a filling or a crown – When you lose a dental restoration like a filling or a crown, it leaves the existing natural tooth very susceptible to breaking and vulnerable to developing infection. In addition, losing a filling or crown can expose the nerves of the tooth – a condition that can be extremely painful. So whether you lose a filling or a crown, or even if you crack a crown, it’s a dental emergency. And just as you should save a tooth that you lose, you should save a crown that comes off as well. If the restoration is not damaged, it’s possible that your dentist will be able to use it again.
- An abscessed tooth – Infection is always serious, no matter where it occurs in the body. That’s why an abscessed (infected) tooth is an emergency situation. The symptoms include extreme sensitivity to hot and cold on one particular tooth, swollen and/or painful gums, as well as pimple-like bumps (fistula) on the gum tissue surrounding the affected tooth. Having an abscessed tooth is usually very painful, so extreme pain is another more obvious symptom of this condition.
When It’s Appropriate to Contact an Emergency Dentist
If you’ve been wondering what is emergency dentistry, we have the answer: Generally speaking, if you experience any of the conditions listed above, you should feel comfortable contacting an emergency dentist. While it’s true that most oral health issues can be easily resolved by simply scheduling an appointment with your dentist whenever he or she has an opening in their schedule, emergency situations require immediate treatment. As is true with any other health emergency, delaying treatment for urgent oral health problems can lead to much more serious consequences and can sometime even be life-threatening. Fortunately, emergency dentists are well equipped to effectively treat almost any oral health problem they’re presented with. If you experience one of the conditions listed above and cannot locate or reach an emergency dentist, you should visit either an urgent care facility or an emergency room in your local hospital.