What is considered a dental emergency?

Accidents can happen at any time, day or night. Maybe you bite into something too hard, suffer from a sports-related injury, or develop a serious infection, like an abscess. Injuries to the mouth and teeth occur often, especially in children. They come with varying degrees of pain, bleeding, and damage. Some minor dental emergencies can wait until regular office hours. Other, more serious dental emergencies require immediate attention. In almost every case you should get help from a dental care professional right away. How do you know if the problem is serious? Here are some guidelines to help you determine the severity of your injury and tips on how to handle your dental emergency.


Dental Emergency

A dental emergency is any significant problem involving teeth and related tissues of the mouth, jaw, and face. Not all dental emergencies are painful, but a good rule to follow is if it hurts, seek immediate dental care.


Is This a Dental Emergency?

To know for sure if your injury or pain is a dental emergency, ask yourself these questions:

  • Were you hit in the face or mouth?
  • Is there any mouth or facial swelling?
  • Are you bleeding excessively from the mouth?
  • Are you in severe pain?
  • Are any of your permanent teeth loose, crooked, broken, or knocked-out?
  • Are any of your dental restorations chipped, cracked, or missing?
  • Is there any swelling, knots, or bulges on your tongue or gums?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions you should consider it a dental emergency. Contact your dentist immediately. Describe in detail what happened to cause the injury or pain, and explain exactly how you are feeling. The dentist will tell you if the emergency is urgent, or if treatment can wait.

Common dental emergencies


Urgent Dental Emergencies

For these conditions seek immediate treatment:

  • Bleeding that will not stop
  • Loose or knocked-out permanent tooth
  • Jaw injury
  • Painful swelling
  • Severe toothache


Non-Urgent Dental Emergency

For these conditions you can usually wait for treatment:

  • Lost filling, crown, or bridge
  • Broken, chipped, or cracked tooth (without pain)
  • Damaged or broken retainer, night guard, or braces
  • Food caught between teeth
  • Dull toothache


Who to Contact During a Dental Emergency

Dental emergencies can be frightening and painful. If it is urgent, you must contact your dentist as soon as possible. Most dentists will have an emergency line or number you can call, especially outside of business hours. Your dentist will tell you what steps to take and where to go for treatment. During office hours most dentists will try and fit you in as soon as possible. However, if you are not in extraordinary pain, then do not fret if the dentist does not get you in right away. If the office is closed, and you are experiencing excessive bleeding or unbearable pain from a dental emergency, contact the on-call dentist. If for some reason you cannot get in touch with a dentist, visit the emergency room for urgent care.


What to Do at Home for a Dental Emergency

If you need to wait a couple of hours before you can get in to see your dentist, there are things you can do to mitigate pain, swelling, and bleeding. The most important thing to do is stay calm. When anxious, your body triggers responses, like elevated heart rate. That can make your emergency worse. So stay calm and tend to your emergency.


You can dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a mug of boiling hot water. Once it cools, use the water to gently rinse your mouth. This will help reduce swelling and relieve irritation. To kill bacteria you can also swish with Hydrogen Peroxide. If you knocked out a tooth, handle it as little as possible. Only touch the crown and store it in a small container of milk. The same goes for any parts of a cracked tooth or dental restoration. You should also use gauze and pressure to reduce bleeding, and a cold compress on the outside of the check or jaw to reduce swelling.

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