When you have a toothache of any kind, it can feel like an emergency. But the fact is that only certain conditions are considered to be dental emergencies. And as uncomfortable as a toothache can be, it may or may not fall into the emergency category. If you’re wondering what is considered a dental emergency, read on. In this article we’ll explore what is an urgent situation and what is not.
How to Tell if You Have a Dental Emergency
The truth is that most dental issues can wait until you can contact your dentist during regular business hours. But there are occasions when people experience a real emergency – one in which you can lose a tooth or suffer serious health consequences if you’re not treated right away. What follows is a list of how to tell when you have a true dental emergency.
- You’re in severe pain. If you have a toothache that is much worse than what you would typically expect, it could be an indication that you have an infected tooth. Any infection needs to be treated right away.
- You’re bleeding. If you are bleeding, it’s usually considered to be a dental emergency. Keep in mind that this would not include minor bleeding of the gums when you brush or floss, which is usually an indication of gum disease, but not considered to be an urgent situation. But if you’re experiencing significant bleeding from your mouth (typically from a specific tooth), it falls into the emergency category.
- You have a loose tooth. Anytime you’re in danger of losing a tooth, it’s considered to be an emergency.
- You have knots on your gums and/or swelling around your face. This is usually an indication of an infection in your mouth. And, as we mentioned above, any infection is considered to be an urgent situation.
Anytime you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your dentist’s emergency number right away. If you aren’t able to reach your dentist, you should consider going to an urgent care facility so you can be seen right away.
Oral Health Problems that are Not Emergencies
The vast majority of oral health issues do not fall into the emergency category. Most toothaches, for example, are probably due to a cavity and can wait until you can schedule an appointment with your dentist. Likewise, a cracked or chipped tooth is not usually an emergency situation. Anytime you experience any sort of dental issue, the best course of action is to call your dentist’s office and either speak to someone about the problem, or leave a message for them to call you back. Most of the time, you’ll be able to wait a day or two until you can get into see the dentist.
The Most Common Dental Emergencies
Just in case you’re still wondering whether or not you’re experiencing a dental emergency, we’re providing the following list of the most common urgent situations:
- A sudden and severe toothache that doesn’t go away – Most of us have had toothaches from time to time. The majority of them go away on their own within a relatively short period of time. You can try rinsing with warm salt water, using an over-the-counter pain medication, or applying an ice pack to alleviate the pain. If none of those work, and you’re still experiencing severe pain, it’s your body’s way of telling you that something is very wrong. This is a dental emergency.
- Swollen and/or bleeding gums – As we noted above, if you notice a small amount of bleeding from your gums after you brush and floss, it’s usually an indication of early stage gum disease. And while you definitely need to have this treated, it’s not considered to be an emergency. However, if your gums start to bleed and won’t stop, especially if that’s accompanied by swelling and pain, it is a dental emergency.
- Swollen mouth or jaw – If you notice sudden swelling around your mouth or your jaw and don’t know why it’s happening, it could indicate an infection or some other condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible.
- Losing a tooth – Whether you have a loose tooth or have a tooth knocked out, it’s a dental emergency. If your tooth is loose, take extra care not to chew on it or do anything else that could cause you to lose it entirely before seeing your dentist. If you’ve already lost a tooth, it’s still possible to save it. Pick up the tooth without touching the root, rinse it off with clean water and, if possible, reinsert it into the socket. If you’re not able to do that, place the tooth into a cup of milk and get to the dentist right away. If you follow these steps, it may be possible to save the tooth.
- Missing a dental filling – Losing a filling is also considered to be an emergency. The reason is simple: once you lose a filling, it’s easy for the remaining tooth to break and it might also expose the nerves of the tooth. Exposed nerves can not only be very painful; it can also result in other oral health issues that constitute an emergency.
- A broken crown – Anytime a crown is broken or falls off, it’s considered to be an emergency. Much like losing a filling, losing a crown leaves the remaining tooth underneath vulnerable to further damage and possible infection. If left untreated, the tooth that has lost the crown may need a root canal or even need to be pulled.
- An abscessed tooth – This is always an emergency situation. A dental abscess is an infection that can easily spread and even become life-threatening if it’s not treated right away. If you have a tooth that is sensitive and extremely painful – one that is surrounded by swollen gums that may develop pimple-like bumps — you could have an abscess.
- Food stuck between teeth – This may not sound like an emergency situation, but it is. If you have a piece of food stuck between your teeth that you can’t remove yourself, it can lead to other dental issues (including gum irritation, decay, a shift in the position of your teeth, or an infection). If this happens to you, call your dentist right away.
If your dentist offers emergency services, you’re fortunate! Not every dentist does. Just make sure you understand what is considered a dental emergency before making that call.