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What is Considered a Dental Emergency?
A dental emergency is when an oral-health-related issue threatens your dental or overall health in a profound way. Essentially, a dental emergency includes any need to stop excessive bleeding, alleviate a severe toothache, treat a serious infection, or save a tooth.
Signs and common symptoms of a dental emergency may include any of the following:
bleeding within the mouth
swelling of gums, mouth tissue, or jaw
a loose tooth
small sores or bumps
In many instances, dental emergencies are the result of unaddressed and untreated issues already existing within the mouth and allowed to worsen over time. Patients are often unaware that these issues have the potential to become increasingly painful and infected and, unfortunately, will learn this the hard way.
Other times, dental emergencies are sudden, resulting from unexpected trauma, such as being hit in the mouth with a baseball or biting down on a hard object, causing a tooth to loosen or crack.
Whichever you experience, it’s essential to know which dental issue types require emergency treatment. This can make all the difference in potentially saving a tooth, and preventing further problems from occurring, such as infection.
5 Common Types of Dental Emergencies
Here are the five most common types of dental emergencies.
1. Loss of a Tooth
The sudden loss of a tooth, such as it being knocked out in a fall or accident, requires immediate action. Knowing what to do can increase the chances that your dentist will be able to preserve the tooth and reinsert it into its socket.
If this happens to you or someone near you, pick the tooth up gently without touching the root. Carefully rinse it but avoid rubbing or scrubbing it in any way.
After rinsing, see if you can reinsert it in its socket, then gently bite down to keep it in place. If you are unable to reinsert it, keep it in a container with clean water or even saliva. Your own saliva, even if it has some blood in it, is the best material to cover the tooth. The sooner you can get to an emergency dentist, the better.
2. Severe Toothache
The level of pain experienced with a toothache can vary, but when it increases and becomes severe, you need to treat it as a dental emergency.
Pain is a warning signal within the body that something is wrong and needs attention. A severe toothache alerts you that an underlying dental issue may exist and needs attention before it becomes worse and causes more damage.
Seek the expert help of a dentist to diagnose the cause and to provide emergency treatment. While waiting, there are a few things you can try to alleviate some of the pain, at least temporarily. Try rinsing with saltwater, applying cold compresses, or taking an over-the-counter medication for the pain.
3. An Abscessed Tooth
Infection within the mouth can lead to the formation of an abscessed tooth, which, when left untreated, can eventually spread to surrounding tissue, the jaw, and other parts of the body.
An abscess is a pocket of pus forming in a tooth and causing infection. It is often accompanied by tooth sensitivity, a throbbing toothache, fever, face swelling, and tenderness in the neck lymph nodes. It also forms a small bump at the base of your infected tooth.
Swirl salt water around in your mouth gently numerous times, then spit it out. This can help relieve some of the pain, but you’ll need emergency treatment from your dentist.
4. Cracked or Broken Teeth
When a tooth chips, cracks, or a bigger piece of it breaks off, there usually is an underlying reason. When this happens, you might not experience a lot of pain, or maybe the tooth is painful to chew on until it finally breaks. Oftentimes, a break can cause a lot of discomfort and requires an emergency visit.
Cracked or broken teeth are caused by a variety of reasons including excessive force, trauma, large cavities, and old fillings. No matter the cause, a quick visit to the dentist is best to diagnose the cause and the treatment before it gets worse.
5. Swollen Soft Tissue or Jaw
Sudden swelling in the mouth or jaw, with no immediate, discernible cause, can be problematic. This swelling may be a sign of infection, lymph node irritation, or another serious issue that needs treatment.
Try placing cold compresses on the outside of your face to alleviate some of the swelling, and schedule an emergency dental appointment.
Serious dental issues need to be treated as soon as possible. If you are unsure about whether the one you are experiencing is considered a dental emergency, call your dentist for guidance. You may be able to delay until a regular appointment or be directed to come in for treatment and to determine the steps needed to bring relief and protect your overall health.