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Like other health crises, emergencies involving the mouth or teeth usually happen without warning. Knowing how to respond in a dental emergency will help you use every minute to help lessen the severity of the issue. Knowing who to call and what to do after an injury ensures that you can move into action immediately. Some situations that could occur will obviously require a fast response to resolve them. Other situations may not require immediate intervention by a dentist. It helps to know the difference between a dental emergency and a lesser situation that won’t require the same immediate response.
Types of Dental Emergencies
Broken Tooth: Sometimes a mouth injury can result in a broken tooth. If this occurs, look for the tooth fragment(s). Collect any fragments you might find so you can take them to the dentist. Clean the injured area with warm water, and place a cold washcloth over the site of the injury. Call the dentist immediately to make an emergency appointment.
Loss of Permanent Tooth: If an injury results in the total loss of a permanent tooth, take fast action. Find the tooth, if possible. Touching only the crown of the tooth, place it back into the socket in the mouth. It may be necessary to hold it in place. If you cannot place the tooth back into the socket, place it into a cup of fresh milk to preserve it. Call the dentist immediately.
Painful Toothache: A painful toothache could indicate an abscess or other infection in the mouth. Rinse out the mouth with warm saltwater to clean it. Place a cold compress on the cheek if swelling is present. Call the dentist as quickly as possible to make an appointment.
Mouth Injury: Other mouth injuries might warrant fast medical attention. If an impact results in a jaw injury, the jaw line may appear distorted. Keep the injured person’s face as still as possible, and get emergency assistance. If someone bites the cheek, lip, or tongue and the bleeding does not stop after 15 minutes, call a doctor or dentist to have the person evaluated as soon as possible.
- Dental Emergency Guide (PDF)
- Dental Pain Is an Emergency (PDF)
- Acute Dental Emergencies in Emergency Medicine (PDF)
- Emergency Guidelines for Early Childhood Programs (PDF)
- Tips for Dealing With Dental Emergencies (PDF)
Who to Contact and Where to Go
Dental practices have regular office hours to treat and assist patients. If an accident or injury occurs after hours, patients can call an after-hours emergency number to get help. The answering service monitoring calls will take information and relay it to the dentist to determine how to assist the patient. Some people may need to go to a regular emergency room for treatment, while others may need to see a dentist or oral surgeon immediately.
- Dental-Related Emergency Department Visits and Community Dental Care Resources for Emergency Room Patients
- Broken or Knocked-Out Teeth
- What Constitutes a Dental Emergency? (PDF)
- The Impact of Unaddressed Dental Disease: Emergency Room Utilization (PDF)
- Oral Health Frequently Asked Questions
What Isn’t a Dental Emergency?
Sometimes a painful injury might occur but the situation is not considered a dental emergency. For example, a soft tissue injury such as a bitten lip or blow to the cheek might happen. In this situation, apply firm pressure to the injury site to control any bleeding. Continue the pressure for 15 minutes. If bruising and swelling occurs, apply a cold compress. If teeth are not loose or disrupted and the bleeding stops, this would not be a dental emergency. However, if you cannot control the bleeding with pressure, call a dental emergency line or a hospital emergency room for assistance. Anytime you are unsure about whether an injury is an emergency, call your dentist’s emergency number to speak with a health professional. If you don’t have a regular dentist, you might call a hospital emergency room to get assistance.
- Dental First Aid for Children (PDF)
- First Aid for Swelling
- Dental Emergency Fact Sheet (PDF)
- Emergency Dental Treatment for the International Traveler (PDF)
Ways to Avoid Dental Emergencies
Daily brushing and flossing is the first line of defense to prevent dental issues. Your gums and teeth will be healthier and stronger when you take good care of your mouth. When engaging in some contact sports, such as hockey, basketball, and wrestling, you can help avoid injuries by wearing a mouth guard. The mouth guard holds the jaw, mouth, and teeth in place to prevent injury after contact or impact.
- Ways to Keep Your Teeth Healthy
- Fast Facts (PDF)
- How to Keep Your Teeth Safe (PDF)
- First Aid for Dental Emergencies and Injuries (PDF)
- Tips to Prevent Tooth and Mouth Injuries
- Take Care of Your Teeth and Gums
- Keeping Your Bones and Teeth Strong for Life
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