Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of a Dental Emergency

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Most often, dental visits are planned. We schedule cleanings and make appointments for any work that needs to be done. Sometimes, between dental visits, the unexpected happens, and we find ourselves in a dental crisis.

There are many causes of dental pain and injury. Some require emergency care. Untreated dental emergencies can cause significant complications. Recognizing a dental emergency and knowing the best way to handle a crisis can make the difference between losing or saving an injured tooth.

Many Situations that Qualify as a Dental Emergency

Most dental issues can wait until you have time to schedule an office appointment as your availability permits, others require immediate attention. The ability to identify a dental emergency will help you proceed confidently, without hesitation, and help minimize the potential damage that can be caused when emergency situations are not dealt with promptly. Consider an emergency consultation with your dentist for any of the following circumstances:

A Knocked-Out Tooth

A tooth that is knocked out of your mouth requires urgent attention. If appropriate steps are taken quickly, the odds are in your favor that the tooth can be reinserted and preserved. Many dentists recommend placing a knocked-out tooth back in the socket if possible. If the tooth cannot be reinserted, place the tooth in a small container with milk (or saliva if necessary) and contact your dentist for an emergency appointment.

A Tooth That is Loose or Moved Out of Alignment

If an injury results in a tooth that is loose or out of place, it’s essential to contact your dentist immediately. If you can gently nudge the tooth back into position with light pressure, do so, but don’t try to move the tooth yourself if moving the tooth requires force. Your dentist will likely be able to stabilize your injured tooth by splinting it to adjacent teeth as it heals. A tooth that is only slightly loose may tighten on its own, but it is always advisable to consult your dentist to determine the best course of action.

Severe Tooth Pain or Facial Swelling

Tooth pain has many potential causes but could be the result of inflammation or infection. Infections and abscesses are often the results of tooth decay or failed restorations. If you find yourself dealing with severe tooth pain from a suspected infection or an apparent abscess, this is justification for an emergency appointment. You may also develop swollen lymph nodes, fever, and facial swelling depending on the location and severity of your infection. Symptoms can progress quickly. Delaying treatment of a dental abscess could cause the infection to spread to your jawbone or into your bloodstream, leading to significant health risks.

A Chipped or Broken Tooth

While small cracks or chips can likely wait until you can schedule an appointment with your dentist during regular office hours, a severe crack or damage resulting in a significant portion of the missing tooth could be considered a dental emergency, particularly if there is significant pain or nerve damage. Either way, call your dentist’s office immediately, your dentist may want to see you right away depending on the severity of the structural damage or your related symptoms. Delaying treatment can often lead to infection or further damage to tooth structure.

While a knocked out or loose tooth is a clear indication of a dental emergency, some dental emergencies are determined by the severity or complexity of symptoms. If you are having a significant dental problem and can’t decide if your issue can wait, contact your dentist’s office. Most dentists would rather you called, even after office hours, to discuss your best course of action than postpone emergency treatment unnecessarily.

Protecting Yourself from Dental Injury

While you can’t predict or prevent all dental emergencies, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of tooth injury. The following suggestions could significantly reduce your risk of needing an emergency dental intervention:

  • Insist on protective mouth gear while participating in contact sports or recreational activities to protect your teeth and tongue
  • Where a helmet for activities involving contact or speed such as football, bicycling, and skating
  • Reduce your risk of tooth fracture by resisting the urge to chew ice or hard candy
  • Stay on alert for unpopped kernels while indulging in popcorn
  • Never use your teeth to cut, pry, or compress an object not intended to be eaten
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Routine examinations will alert your dentist to early signs of decay, infection, or damage to your existing restorations before they cause symptoms

Preparing Yourself for Dental Emergencies

Just like you have a first aid kit to care for minor injuries to your body, having a dental first aid kit in your home and your car can help ensure you are prepared for a dental emergency. The following supplies are beneficial to have on-hand:

  • Sterile gloves – to keep viruses and bacteria from spreading
  • A small container – in case of tooth loss (place the tooth in the case with milk or saliva) or purchase a commercial tooth-preserving product
  • Salt packets – Salt water is a soothing rinse for dental pain, gum irritation, and canker sores
  • Gauze pads – to protect an injury and help control bleeding
  • Dental wax – to cover broken orthodontic wires and the sharp edges of chipped or broken teeth
  • Dental floss – to remove debris stuck between teeth
  • A topical analgesic – to help manage toothache pain
  • An over-the-counter pain reliever – to minimize discomfort

Some dental issues can wait until you can contact your dentist during office hours and schedule an appointment, others require prompt attention. In general, if an injury results in tooth loss or broken teeth, or infection causes facial swelling or significant pain, contact your dentist’s office for emergency dental services or contact your their after-hours answering service immediately. If you are unsure if your dental crisis is an emergency, remember that it is better to call for advice than to wait.

Learn More About Recognizing a Dental Emergency

For emergency dental services in Oceanside, CA, contact North Coast Dental Excellence. We are committed to making your dental visit a comfortable, pleasant experience and understand that dental emergencies happen, often without warning. In addition to emergency dental services, North Coast Dental Excellence also provides cosmetic and family dentistry, root canals, periodontal therapy, and dental implants.