What Counts as a Dental Emergency?

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There are emergencies when it comes to dental care, just as with any other kind of health care. However, few people really care about what “counts” as a dental emergency.

The SMILE AVENUE SPECIALIST DENTAL TEAM offers some ideas on what is a dental emergency, and what to do in case you find yourself with one.

Knowing whether or not an issue is a dental emergency is important even under normal circumstances. If a patient has a problem on a weekend or a holiday, they will need to judge how serious it is. The problem with many dental issues is that if left alone, they won’t go away. Instead, they will often get worse. For this reason, a true dental emergency needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.

Worrisome Symptoms that Might Mean Dental Emergency

Dental symptoms that could point to a dental emergency typically fall into four main categories:

Pain,

Bleeding,

Swelling,

Trauma such as a loose, broken, or knocked-out tooth.

Deciding if and when to go to the dentist is a matter of balancing caution (or reluctance) with the degree of discomfort and the seriousness of the potential problem if it’s left untreated.

Dental Emergencies that Need Attention

The following conditions are serious enough to justify a call to the dentist to seek emergency treatment.

  1. Severe Pain

a. A seed or other food particle stuck between two teeth

This can cause a surprising amount of pain at times. Examine the area where the pain is coming from, try to floss and clean the area. If this is the case, the problem is solved by removing it, and there is no emergency at all.

Why does the gum between my tooth hurt? I had meat stuck between my tooth  for 3 hours or more. - Quora

b. Toothache pain

Toothache pain can also indicate a cavity or an infection like pulpitis though. This means that the cavity has worn away enough of the tooth’s enamel to hit the root. The pain can be intense and interfere with eating and chewing. An emergency root canal procedure and crown placement might be necessary.

 c. Pericoronitis

This is a painful condition experienced when wisdom teeth start to erupt. If the teeth do not have room to come in (as most wisdom teeth do not) they can hurt a lot as they try to push neighboring teeth out of the way. A dentist might advise having them removed as soon as possible.

The early stages of any toothache pain can be treated with over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen. An old wive’s tale advises placing an aspirin tablet directly on the tooth, but that’s not recommended. Not only will it not work, but it can also burn the surrounding gums. 

If the pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, it should be considered an emergency and a dentist should be consulted.

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2. Bleeding

Bleeding gums can be the result of brushing too hard or a scrape or cut caused by a piece of hard food. It is also a symptom of gingivitis or periodontitis. These are a cause for concern, but are not an emergency. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, however, or if it comes along with a toothache or swelling, it could be something more serious.

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Severe periodontal disease can cause irreparable damage to the gums and should be examined promptly. A dentist or periodontist is the best judge of the level of urgency the patient is facing. 

Gums may also bleed a lot if they have been torn or cut due to some type of trauma. Sutures might be necessary to stop the bleeding and prevent infection. This type of injury should be addressed right away.

3. Signs of Infection

An infected or abscessed tooth results in a number of possible symptoms.

  • A patient can be in severe pain that makes it hard to eat.
  • There could be a boil-like bump on the gum filled with fluid.
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  • There can also be swelling in the surrounding area, or even in the face.
  • Sometimes the infection is bad enough to cause a fever. 

Infection or abscesses are considered dental emergencies. Left alone, an infection in a tooth can spread to neighboring teeth or the jaw. In the worst cases, an infection can get into the bloodstream and cause death. 

At home, a patient can try ice packs, over-the-counter pain medication and analgesics for the pain and fever until they can get to a dentist. The dentist will need to lance and drain the abscess—something that should not be attempted at home. If there is any trouble breathing or swallowing, the patient should go to an emergency room instead of waiting to see a dentist.

4. Loose or Broken Teeth

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  1. Loose teeth in adults are not normal and could indicate a dental emergency.
  • They could be the result of a trauma like being hit in the face or the sign of an infected tooth.

Losing a tooth can affect the patient’s bite alignment and ability to chew. A dentist should be consulted about loose teeth to see if they can be saved. 

  • A broken or chipped tooth does not necessarily count as a dental emergency. It may not look nice, but it can probably wait unless it causes other issues. For example, if the remaining tooth is jagged or sharp, it can cut into the lips and gums.

A broken tooth can also affect the bite alignment and ultimately cause jaw problems. And, if a break goes too deep into the pulp of the tooth, there is a risk of bacteria and infection.

The same goes for broken or missing fillings and crowns. They can let harmful bacteria into the core of the tooth, causing much more serious problems than the ones they were meant to fix. 

How to Handle Dental Emergencies

The best thing to do if you have what you think is a dental emergency is to contact your dentist or Smile Avenue Dental Center team. This can be done by phone or as private messages in our social media forums.

If they feel the issue is a dental emergency, together you can come up with a plan for treatment options. Be aware that under current guidelines related to COVID-19, your dental visit might be different than what you’re used to.

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