Do You Know What to Do in a Dental Emergency?


By the time we reach adulthood, most of us are at least somewhat knowledgeable about what to do in a medical emergency: We know it’s important to stop bleeding, restart breathing, and not to move a person who may have broken bones. A call to 911, and/or a trip to the ER is often essential. But what about a dental emergency?

If you have a problem with your teeth, the ER is not always the best place to go; instead, you may want to consider calling your dentist first. When would you do that? In general, it depends on whether the problem is confined to your teeth, or whether it’s affecting your health and safety in other ways. For example, here are some things that clearly require a trip to the ER:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding from the mouth
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness from trauma to the mouth
  • Broken jaw
  • Painful swelling anywhere—including the mouth or face

However, there are some dental problems—even some traumatic injuries—that a dentist or oral surgeon will be in the best position to help you with. These include:

Even before you leave for the dental office, there are certain things you can do in each of the above cases to ensure the best outcome. Let’s take a look at these situations in a little more detail.

If a permanent tooth is knocked out, it is possible to save it; but in order to do so, you need to handle the tooth very carefully and get to a dental office immediately. When you pick up the tooth, make sure not to touch the root area. Rinse it off very gently in water, and see if you can put it back in the socket, facing the correct way. Then get to a dentist as fast as you can. (But don’t try to re-implant a baby tooth—this could damage the permanent tooth that is developing beneath the gum in the same spot.) If you can’t re-implant the tooth, transport it between the injured person’s cheek and gum to keep it moist (this should only be done with an individual old enough to know not to swallow the tooth). You can also transport the tooth in a plastic bag with the injured person’s saliva. A tooth that’s been knocked out of place but is not out of the mouth also needs treatment quickly.

A broken tooth is not usually considered a true emergency unless it is causing pain. If a piece of the tooth has chipped out, try to find it; your dentist may be able to reattach it. If the tooth is cracked, depending on where the crack is located it may have to be extracted. Injuries like this should be seen by a dentist within 12 hours.

As for tooth pain, that can be somewhat tricky; sometimes, pain being experienced as coming from a tooth can actually be sinus pain. But if it is coming from the tooth, decay is very often the cause. So do you go to the dentist or the ER? Dear Doctor magazine recently put this question to emergency room physician Dr. Travis Stork, a host of the syndicated TV health show The Doctors, and here’s what he said:

“If the dentist’s office is open…that’s where you need to be without a doubt. Having said that, if it’s the middle of the night and you have dental pain and your face is starting to swell, then you go to the ER.” Dr. Stork said facial swelling could be a sign of a serious infection. “A dental infection can sometimes lead to a big-time abscess that can become…life-threatening in a matter of minutes,” he said. “[But] for most run-of-the-mill toothaches, there’s not a lot of service you’re going to get in the ER. We don’t fill cavities!”

Of course, all of this is meant to serve only as a guideline. If you have any doubt, don’t wait – go wherever you can get professional help the fastest. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.


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