How to Recognize an Emergency Dental Problem

Dental emergencies happen when you least expect them, and can leave you in a world of pain. While prevention with regular dental checkups and teeth cleaning is the best way to avoid them, they can still occur. When they do, quick reaction and first aid can reduce pain, stop bleeding, prevent further damage, and even save a tooth.

The most common dental emergencies include severe tooth pain that doesn’t subside with over-the-counter medication, a knocked out tooth (try to hold it in place by placing it in milk or in the freezer), and an abscess that can lead to infection and even life-threatening complications if left untreated. But how do you know if you’re experiencing a dental emergency? In general, any problem that requires immediate treatment to relieve pain, stop bleeding, alleviate shock or dislocated jaw bones is considered an emergency. If you have a swollen mouth or jaw, if the bleeding won’t stop, or if you feel that your health is in jeopardy, seek emergency dental care immediately.

Getting prompt dental care can help you avoid the need for more expensive treatments that will be necessary without it, such as replacing your teeth. But determining the extent of your dental emergency can be confusing. Some things may seem urgent, but they’re actually more of a nuisance that you can take care of at home.

An untreated toothache that is causing you significant pain, if it lasts for more than 24 hours, is definitely an emergency. Over-the-counter acetaminophen and ibuprofen can provide some relief, but the best way to alleviate your pain is with a cold compress. Rinsing your mouth with salt water can also help, especially if the pain is caused by an exposed nerve.

A cracked or chipped tooth that exposes the inside of your tooth, and potentially the nerve, to air and heat can also be considered an emergency. A missing filling that allows your tooth to break or chip easily should also be seen by a dentist immediately.

Excessive gum bleeding is a dental emergency because it may indicate an underlying dental or medical issue. Gums that won’t stop bleeding are very serious, and can lead to serious complications including a stroke or heart attack.

If you’re not sure if your problem is an emergency, contact your dentist for advice. Most have an after-hours number you can call if the problem occurs outside of business hours, and they can give you instructions for what to do next. If you can’t get to your dentist right away, go to the emergency room and explain what’s happening to the doctor. They won’t be able to fix your dental issue, but they can treat other symptoms such as pain and bleeding until you can see an emergency dentist. You can also try looking for local dental charities and schools that offer free or low-cost care to those in need. For more details on dental health visit

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