Excel Dental Blog

Dental Emergencies 101

Dental emergencies are much more common than you may think. According to the American Association of Endodontics, more than five million teeth are knocked out every year—talk about a lot of Tooth Fairy currency!

When it comes to a dental injury, time is of the essence. Save your smile or that of someone else by understanding the proper protocol for every type of dental emergency scenario.

Types of Dental Emergencies

Some dental emergencies are more urgent than others. In the section below, we’ve identified some of the more common dental emergencies ranked in order of typical emergency levels. As with any major dental injury, though, your first step should always be to call your Ozark dentist. Your dentist is equipped to determine the true severity of your injury and to detail your individual course of treatment.

Chipped Tooth

Emergency Level:

  • Without pain: Low
  • With pain: Moderate

What is it? A chipped tooth is relatively common, and can happen quite easily—especially if the injured tooth was already showing signs of decay. With this type of injury, a small portion of the enamel is damaged. This damage to the enamel creates a rough-edge serration. A chipped tooth is typically considered a mild dental injury; however, that doesn’t mean you should delay treatment, especially if you’re experiencing pain.

What to do: First, contact your local dentist office to schedule an appointment. In the meantime, prevent further enamel damage by using orthodontic wax or sugarless gum to gently cover the chipped edge. Do not entertain the “DIY” internet quick-fixes for a chipped tooth, such as at-home filing, which can cause painful nerve damage.

Rinse your mouth with salt water if you experience pain associated with the chip. An over-the-counter pain reliever can be taken as well.

During your appointment, your dentist will evaluate the severity of your chip and determine the best solution. For relatively minor and cosmetic chips, your dentist may suggest a quick and easy procedure called bonding or a filling. This simple process uses a tooth-colored composite material that is molded over the healthy area of the tooth to correct the chip. For more complex cases, your dentist may suggest a crown, which is essentially a fitted cap that comfortably adheres over your existing tooth.

Loose Tooth

Emergency Level: Moderate-High

What is it? A loose tooth is the potential precursor to losing a tooth. Unless you’re in the first grade, a loose tooth is not normal. In adults, this type of dental emergency can be the result of teeth grinding, external injury, or a receding gum line caused by advanced gum disease. Your dentist will be able to evaluate the injury and determine the underlying cause for optimal treatment and after-care.

What to do: Call your dentist for an emergency appointment right away. Your dentist will likely work to stabilize the tooth by splinting it to your teeth on either side. In the meantime, avoid excessive wiggling or movement of the tooth and steer clear from hard foods until you’re able to see your dentist.

Broken or Cracked Tooth

Emergency Level: Moderate-High

What is it? When a tooth is cracked or broken, it usually means that damage to the tooth has occurred to the outside and to the inside. Minor breaks typically don’t cause pain. If a large piece of the tooth breaks off, however, it can be quite painful and an indication that the nerve inside the tooth is damaged.

What to do: As with any dental emergency, the first step is to call your local dental office to schedule an appointment right away.

Then, clean your mouth by gently rinsing with warm water. A cold compress should be applied if your fracture was caused by a facial injury. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen can be used to temporarily alleviate pain. Avoid applying topical painkillers to the gum, like Orajel, which can further irritate your gum tissue.

During your appointment, your dentist will work to diagnose the severity of the fracture by using an X-Ray. If it’s determined that the soft tissue inside of the tooth, the “pulp”, is damaged, a root canal may be needed. For injuries that don’t involve the pulp, a crown may be used instead.

Knocked-out Tooth

Emergency Level: High

What is it? When your tooth has been knocked out of the socket completely, the nerves, blood vessels and supporting tissues are damaged also, and that is why this scenario constitutes a serious dental emergency. By taking appropriate, swift action following the incident, it is possible to preserve the tooth and save your smile.

What to do: Time is of the essence in this type of emergency situation. Ideally, seek treatment within 30 minutes at your local dental office to increase your chances of successful tooth reattachment to the socket.

If you have the knocked out tooth—great! Now, there are a few critical tips to keep in mind when preparing to transport your tooth to the dentist office:

1. Do not handle the tooth by the root. Be careful to only pick up or hold the tooth by the crown, which is the visible part of the tooth that is used for chewing.

2. Gently and carefully rinse the tooth clean with lukewarm water. Ensure a drain plug is in place so you don’t lose the tooth. Do not:

  • Use soap or harsh chemicals
  • Scrub the tooth
  • Wrap the tooth in towels, tissue or cloth

3. Place the tooth in a cup of milk, or an emergency preservation solution that is backed by the American Dental Association (ADA), like Save-a-Tooth®.

Upon arrival to the dental office, your dentist will examine the tooth and overall injury to determine if reattachment is a safe option. If so, your dentist will reimplant the tooth to the socket, using a splint for stabilization.

In some cases, a root canal may be performed right then or later down the road. There are several factors that will determine the best course of action, such as how long the tooth was out of the mouth and the severity of the overall injury and the health of the surrounding bone and tissue.

You can trust that your Ozark dentists at Excel Dental will thoroughly evaluate your individual emergency situation to determine the most successful treatment for long term viability of your tooth and smile.

Dental Emergency? Dial Your Dentist!

A dental emergency doesn’t have to end in dental disaster. By taking the right steps after an injury, the odds of saving your smile are in your favor. If you find yourself facing a dental emergency, call Dr. Tracy Davis or Dr. Nick Matthews at Excel Dental, located in Ozark, Missouri—a short 10 minute drive from Springfield. We’re equipped to preserve your smile using the latest diagnostics and treatment.

Related Reading

Searching for more advice on this topic? Make sure to check out these related posts from our blog: