People risk breaking their teeth or otherwise injuring their mouths while eating, playing, exercising, and participating in other seemingly harmless activities. Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving or losing a tooth.
What Are Dental Emergencies? Dental emergencies can occur when your tooth breaks, cracks, becomes loosened, or is knocked out completely. Sometimes dental crowns come off teeth. Lips, gums, or cheeks can be cut. Less often, jaws can fracture from trauma.
How Can I Avoid Them? Take simple precautions, such as wearing a mouthguard during sports to prevent teeth from breaking or being knocked out, and avoid hard foods that may crack your teeth-whether you have natural teeth or you wear dentures. For all of them, see a dentist as soon as possible.
- Tooth Knocked Out: Immediately call a dentist for an emergency appointment. It is important to see your dentist within one hour of when your tooth is knocked out for the best chance of the tooth surviving. Do not hold or handle the tooth by the root of the tooth, which can damage cells needed for reattachment. Rinse dirt or debris off the tooth gently; never scrub it clean. Place the tooth between the cheek and gum to keep it moist. Don’t let it dry out. If that’s not possible, wrap the tooth in gauze or a clean cloth and put in a container of milk or saline solution (like for contact lenses) and take it and the patient to the dentist immediately.
- Tooth Pushed Out of Position:If the tooth is loose and out of position, call the dentist immediately then attempt to reposition it to its normal alignment using very light finger pressure. Don’t force it.
- Fractured Tooth: There are different types. Chipped teeth are minor fractures. Moderate fractures include damage to the enamel, tissue, and/or pulp. Severe fractures usually mean that a tooth has been so badly damaged that it cannot be fixed. To avoid further aggravating the damaged tooth, place a piece of soft wax over the area of the tooth that was chipped. You should eat only soft foods and try to avoid hot or cold foods until you see a dentist. If you wear dentures and a tooth chips or breaks off the denture, use your spare denture or if you do not have one, your dentist should be able to repair it on an emergency basis.
- Fractured Jaw: If you have suffered trauma to your jaw and you find that your jaw hurts when it is moved or if you cannot close your mouth in a normal fashion, you may have a fractured jaw. Apply cold compresses to the affected area then seek professional medical help at a hospital emergency room. The hospital will be able to treat your injury as well as advise you whether you need to make an appointment to see your dentist.
- Bitten Lip or Tongue and Other Tissue Injuries: Tears, cuts, puncture wounds, and lacerations of the cheek, lip, or tongue should be cleaned immediately with warm water. Biting or lacerating your tongue may cause inflammation and possible bleeding. Use ice or pressure to control the swelling or bleeding. Contact your dentist or an oral surgeon immediately or go to a hospital emergency room. Any swelling should subside within 24 hours. Contact your dentist if the pain persists or the laceration is deep.
- 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. Bite down to apply pressure to the area to control the flow of blood. If bleeding persists, you may try soaking a regular tea bag in cool water, then biting on it applying pressure for up to one hour. The tea leaves help aid clotting. If bleeding continues after this, call your dentist.
- Mouth Sores: Painful canker sores or cold sores occur inside the mouth or on the lips. They can be caused by stress, biting the inside of the mouth, or by a reaction to certain foods. These sores usually last 7-10 days. If you find that you have developed one of these ulcerations, either apply an over-the-counter medicine like Orajel or Campho-Phenique, or contact your dentist for him to apply an in-office medication.
- Toothache: A toothache is often a sign of infection in or around the tooth, but could be due to a sinus infection for upper teeth, a recently lost filling, or a change in the bite. Tylenol or Ibuprofen can be effective to temporarily control pain. Contact your dentist quickly to determine the cause and have it treated.
Abscess - What Is It? An abscess is a limited area of pus formed as a result of a bacterial infection. When there is no way for pus to drain, it forms an abscess. In the mouth, abscesses form in gum tissue or in the roots of teeth and in the surrounding areas of the tooth. At first, the abscess may cause a toothache, which can be severe. If the abscess ruptures, a sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting fluid will spill into the mouth. Once the abscess ruptures, the pain often decreases significantly, but dental treatment is still necessary. If the abscess does not drain, the infection can spread to other areas of the head and neck and can become life threatening. If you have a toothache or notice evidence of an abscess on your gum, visit your dentist. Even if the abscess drains and the pain decreases, a visit to the dentist for complete treatment is crucial. Saving an abscessed tooth begins with draining the infection, which usually relieves pain and removes much of the infection. Root canal treatmentmay be necessary and should be started as soon as possible to remove diseased tissue. If the abscess involves gum tissue, your dentist may suggest that you rinse with warm salt water (1/8 of a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water) a few times a day for several days. You may be prescribed antibiotics to help make sure the infection has been eliminated.
Objects caught between teeth. First, try using dental floss to very gently and carefully remove the object. If you can't get the object out, see your dentist. Never use a pin or other sharp object to poke at the stuck object. These instruments can cut your gums or scratch your tooth surface.
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. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Lost crown. If the crown falls off, if possible, slip the crown back over the tooth. Before doing so, coat the inner surface with an over-the-counter dental cement, toothpaste, or denture adhesive, to help hold the crown in place. Do not use super glue! Make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. If you can't get to the dentist right away and the tooth is causing pain, use a cotton swab to apply a little clove oil to the sensitive area (clove oil can be purchased at your local drug store or in the spice aisle of your grocery store).
Broken braces wires. If a wire breaks or sticks out of a bracket or band and is poking your cheek, tongue or gum, try using the eraser end of a pencil to push the wire into a more comfortable position. If you can't reposition the wire, cover the end with orthodontic wax, a small cotton ball, or piece of gauze until you can get to your orthodontist's office. Never cut the wire, as you could end up swallowing it or breathing it into your lungs.
Loose brackets and bands.Temporarily reattach loose braces with a small piece of orthodontic wax. Alternatively, place the wax over the braces to provide a cushion. See your orthodontist as soon as possible. If the problem is a loose band, save it and call your orthodontist for an appointment to have it recemented or replaced (and to have missing spacers replaced).
Pizza Palate - What Is It?: Your pizza arrives, you're hungry and it smells so good. You take out that first piece, dripping with cheese, take a big bite…and burn the roof of your mouth. Now you have pizza palate. Other hot foods and liquids can also burn the roof of your mouth (palate), but these types of burns have come to be called "pizza palate" because it is most commonly caused by pizza. These burns usually are minor and heal within a few days. The condition should improve over the course of a week, often sooner. Stick to soft foods and cool liquids; avoid hard, crusty foods that can further irritate your mouth. And stay away from hot pizza! Warm salt water rinses (1/8 of a teaspoon in 8 ounces of water) after meals will help keep the area clean. Topical anesthetics may relieve pain from eating in severe cases.
Lodged Foreign Bodies- It's not unusual for small food particles - especially hard particles such as popcorn shells - to get underneath the gum and irritate the tissues. If the food particle is not removed and the irritation goes on long enough, the area may get infected. If you feel something wedged under the gum, try using dental floss to remove it. If this doesn't help, take a toothpick and gently run it around the gum line. You may be able to dislodge the particle. You have to be careful, however, that you don't hurt your gum with the toothpick or accidentally push the particle deeper under the gum. If you can't remove a foreign body yourself, it's important to see your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist has specialized tools for reaching into tight spaces. Also, he or she will examine the area to ensure that it's clean and free of infection.
If you have a dental emergency, call our office at 610-692-8454 as early in the day as possible. We are available 24 hours for dental emergencies. We try to see emergencies and call prescriptions in to your pharmacy as quickly as possible the day you call.