You may have noticed that several dental sites include “Emergency Dentistry” or “Dental Emergencies” listed as one of the services they provide. But have you ever wondered what constitutes an “emergency” and when it would be appropriate to seek out those services? You should know that only certain conditions qualify as “emergencies.” And just as you wouldn’t want to call 911 unless you desperately needed help, you also don’t want to reach out to a dental emergency phone line unless you really have to. That’s why we’ve compiled the following information about the most common five types of dental emergencies.
What You Should Know about Emergency Dentists
Dentists who offer emergency dental services typically have the same education and experience as any other dentist. In fact, the only thing that distinguishes emergency dentists from any other oral health provider is that they are willing to accept walk-in emergencies in their dental offices and some are even on call 24 hours a day. Just like emergency room doctors in a hospital, emergency dentists have a lot of experience in making quick diagnoses of their patients’ conditions and treating those issues quickly.
Five Most Common Dental Emergencies
Not every dental condition warrants a visit to an emergency dentist. In fact, there is a relatively short list of problems that are considered to be urgent enough for a patient to reach out for emergency dental services. Those include the following:
- Severe pain – By “severe” we mean a toothache that comes on suddenly and is extremely painful. Most of us will occasionally experience a tooth that hurts, but this kind of extreme toothache that comes on all of a sudden usually means something is seriously wrong (such as an infection, for example) and needs to be treated right away.
- Tooth loss or loose teeth – Generally speaking, anytime you have a loose tooth or have already lost a tooth, it’s considered to be a dental emergency. If you have a loose tooth, do everything you can to keep it from falling out by not moving it or chewing on it, and contact an emergency dentist right away. If you’ve already lost a tooth, retrieve it by picking it up at the tip (not the root), rinsing it off with clean water, and placing it in a cup of milk. Then contact an emergency dentist and take the tooth with you on your visit. In many cases, the tooth can be saved and reinserted into the socket. You can also try to reinsert the tooth into the socket yourself and then call the dentist, although most people might be a little queasy about attempting this on their own.
- Losing a filling or a crown – This category of dental emergency might come as a surprise to some people. Although losing a filling or crown may not seem like an urgent situation, it warrants a phone call to an emergency dentist. The reason is simple. When you lose a filling or crown, it exposes the compromised tooth underneath the restoration, leaving the tooth susceptible to more damage and infection. For that reason, you need to contact a dentist right away to avoid any further complications. If you lose a crown, try to retrieve the crown and take it with you to your appointment since your dentist might be able to simply fit you with the same restoration.
- Injury to soft tissues that results in bleeding – If you experience any kind of an injury to your gums, tongue, lips, or the inside of your mouth, you should contact an emergency dentist. This type of injury typically results in significant bleeding, which would usually be enough to motivate anyone to call the emergency dentist. In many situations, a dentist may be able to remedy the problem, but for some types of injury the patient may need to go to an emergency room in a hospital or an urgent care center. Either way, the appropriate first step is to call an emergency dentist, explain your situation, and let the dentist make a recommendation for treatment.
- Swelling or knots on your gums and/or swelling around your face – When you notice swelling anywhere in or around your mouth, it can mean that an infection has formed. Infections inside the mouth often cause your gums to swell, become painful, and/or develop pimple-like bumps (also referred to as “fistula”). Anytime you notice this type of swelling that comes on quickly without any apparent cause, it’s time to contact an emergency dentist. Infections of any kind can be dangerous if left untreated, and that includes those that occur in or around the mouth.
Non-Emergency Oral Health Problems
Now that we’ve categorized the five most common dental emergencies, it’s worth briefly mentioning oral health conditions that are NOT emergencies. These include minor toothaches, gums that bleed slightly when you brush, and minor cracks or chips in teeth. A toothache that isn’t too severe is usually due to decay that can be resolved with a filling or a crown. A small amount of bleeding from the gums after brushing and flossing might be an indication of early-stage gum disease. And a tiny crack or chip in a tooth can happen as a result of biting down on hard or chewy foods. Although each of these problems needs to be treated by a dentist promptly, the majority of the time it’s fine to wait until you can schedule a dental appointment during regular business hours.
When deciding whether or not you should call an emergency dentist to seek treatment, keep in mind the categories of oral health issues we’ve covered in this article. If you experience any of the five types of dental emergencies, you would be completely justified in contacting an emergency dentist right away. If you can’t reach a dentist, you may need to visit an emergency room or an urgent care facility to seek treatment. Either way, extreme pain, bleeding, sudden swelling, or losing a tooth or dental restoration are all considered to be dental emergencies that need to be resolved as quickly as possible.