Handling Dental Emergencies
Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving or losing a tooth.
Any dental emergency, such as an injury to the teeth or gums, can be potentially serious and should not be ignored. Ignoring a dental problem can increase the risk of permanent damage as well as the need for more extensive and expensive treatment down the road.
Here's a quick summary of what to do for some common dental problems.
Toothache: An aching tooth is a very common dental emergency. A toothache is often a sign of infection in or around a tooth. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, if needed. Never put an aspirin or any other painkiller against the gums near the aching tooth because it may burn the gum tissue. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Abscess: Abscesses are infections that occur around the root of a tooth or in the space between the teeth and gums. Abscesses are a serious condition that can damage tissue and surrounding teeth, with the infection possibly spreading to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Because of the serious oral health and general health problems that can result from an abscess, see your dentist as soon as possible if you discover a pimple-like swelling on your gum that usually is painful. In the meantime, to ease the pain and draw the pus toward the surface, try rinsing your mouth with a mild salt water solution (1/2 teaspoon of table salt in 8 ounces of water) several times a day.
Bleeding After an Extraction: Slight bleeding after an extraction is normal. A clot will usually form within one hour. If bleeding continues, place a thick gauze pad over the extraction site. Apply pressure to the area to control the flow of blood. If bleeding still persists, you may try placing it a small tea bag over the extraction site and gently close until bleeding subsides. The tea leaves contain minerals which may aid in the clotting procedure.
Broken tooth: To avoid further aggravating the damaged tooth, place a piece of soft wax into the area of the tooth that was chipped. You should eat only soft foods and try to avoid food and drink that are hot and cold to the touch.
Tooth Knocked Out: Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown (the part that is usually exposed in the mouth), and rinse off the tooth root with water if it's dirty. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments. If possible, try to put the tooth back in place. Never force it into the socket. If it's not possible to reinsert the tooth in the socket, put the tooth in a small container of milk (or cup of water that contains a pinch of table salt, if milk is not available). In all cases, see your dentist as quickly as possible.
Lost Filling: As a temporary measure, stick a piece of sugarless gum into the cavity (sugar-filled gum will cause pain) or use an over-the-counter dental cement such as DenTemp. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Lost Crown: If the crown falls off, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. If possible, slip the crown back over the tooth. Before doing so, coat the inner surface with an over-the-counter dental cement such as DenTemp, or denture adhesive, to help hold the crown in place. Do not use super glue!
Mouth Sores: Canker sores are those very small and painful sores which occur inside the mouth. They can be caused by stress, biting the inside of the mouth or by a reaction to certain foods. If you find that you have developed a canker sore on the inside of the mouth, apply an over-the-counter medicine such as Zilactin. This will produce a bandage-like film over the sore.
Soft-tissue Injuries: Injuries to the soft tissues, which include the tongue, cheeks, gums, and lips, can result in bleeding. To control the bleeding, here's what to do:
- Rinse your mouth with a mild salt-water solution.
- Use a moistened piece of gauze or tea bag to apply pressure to the bleeding site. Hold in place for 15 to 20 minutes.
- To both control bleeding and relieve pain, hold a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek in the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes.
- If the bleeding doesn't stop, see your dentist right away or go to a hospital emergency room. Continue to apply pressure on the bleeding site with the gauze until you can be seen and treated.