Often, dental problems can get worse the longer they go untreated. This is particularly true of dental emergencies. If not addressed promptly, they can lead to permanent damage or even tooth loss. In some cases, the difference between saving a tooth and having it lost forever can be as little as a few hours.
Not every dental problem, however, constitutes a real emergency. Some situations that require urgent care include severe pain, uncontrollable bleeding and fractured facial bones. Other conditions, such as a small crack or chip in a tooth, a loose filling or bridge, or food stuck between teeth, may also require immediate attention.
The best way to decide what constitutes a dental emergency is to contact your dentist. They should be able to give you some advice over the phone, or refer you to an after-hours clinic. In addition, most dental insurance plans have lists of participating providers who offer after-hours services. In a pinch, you can also call your local hospital’s emergency room. Many hospitals have oral surgeons on staff, and can provide prompt treatment to save a tooth.
According to the American Dental Association, some conditions that require immediate dental care may actually be life threatening. Serious infections accompanied by swelling, pockets of pus or fever should be considered a dental emergency and should be treated as soon as possible. Additionally, if a cut inside the mouth or on the neck extends into the throat or airway it is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment by an oral surgeon at a hospital.
Other serious dental issues that require immediate dental care include a fractured tooth, which exposes the sensitive inner layers of the tooth to further damage and infection. Trauma to the mouth from sports, work accidents or car crashes can also be considered a dental emergency, especially when it causes uncontrollable bleeding and broken facial bones.
If you are experiencing a dental emergency, the first thing you should do is rinse your mouth with warm water to clean it. Place a piece of gauze over the area and apply pressure until the bleeding stops. Do not use aspirin or ibuprofen, as these medications can increase blood flow and complicate the situation. If you are experiencing a swollen jaw or gums, you can gently massage the area with warm saltwater to ease the discomfort.
Taking a few deep breaths and staying calm can help you determine whether your dental problem is an emergency or not. If you can’t get to a dentist right away, try putting an ice pack in your mouth or on the area of the injury. You can also take acetaminophen to reduce pain and swelling.
If you are in severe pain or have uncontrollable bleeding, seek emergency dental care immediately. If you are unsure of the severity of your condition, contact your dentist or an after-hours dentist for guidance. If you are at a hospital, be sure to let them know that you are there for a dental emergency so they can direct you to an oral surgeon.