If you're not sure if a dental problem is an emergency, we offer this advice: If it hurts, it's an emergency. This is because even injuries that seem small can affect the living tissues inside the teeth. Quick response to a dental problem improves the odds of saving injured or damaged teeth.
Any obvious damage to a tooth should be treated as soon as possible. Chips or fractures can affect the living tissue inside the tooth, causing more problems in the future. We can prevent the damage from getting worse with early treatment.
The same is true of a lost filling or crown. Even if you don't have symptoms, the tooth has lost its support and it could easily become damaged. Pieces could break off or crumble, and you would need more extensive treatment. If you see us right away, there's a good chance we will be able to repair the damage more easily.
Below are some frequently asked questions regarding specific dental emergencies.
- Injured tooth: What Should I Do?
- Chipped tooth, Cracked tooth, or Broken Teeth
- Teeth knocked out
- Partially dislodged tooth
- Lost filling or a crown came off
- Severe pain (not from trauma)
- Injuries of the lips and/or gums
As with any trauma to the mouth, you should consult with us immediately to determine if treatment is required. We will examine the area and take necessary x-rays.
If you are in pain from a broken, cracked, or chipped tooth, you may want to take an over the counter anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as Advil or aspirin. If possible, keep any part of the tooth that has broken off and bring it with you to your appointment. Avoid chewing on the injured tooth and avoid extreme temperatures.
If there is no pain and the chip is small, it's up to you to decide if, when, or how the tooth should be repaired. Depending on the size of the chip, it can be smoothed or cosmetically corrected. Ask us to explain the options available to you. If a filling or artificial tooth becomes chipped, it should be replaced. Cracked or broken teeth should be repaired as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Keep in mind that cracks are not always visible, even on x-rays. Symptoms may involve pain while chewing and sensitivity to cold and/or hot foods as well as liquid or even air, which may over time, become more pronounced.
To improve the chances of the tooth being saved, Anne-Lise Fink, DDS suggests doing the following:
- Handle the tooth carefully. Avoid touching the root of the tooth (the part of the tooth that was embedded in the gum).
- If the tooth is dirty, hold it by the upper part (the crown) and rinse it off with milk or contact lens solution until most of the dirt is washed away. If you don't have either of those available, then it is best to leave the tooth alone. Wiping it off with a handkerchief or your shirt may cause additional damage to the microscopic cells still on the root surface.
- It is important to keep the tooth moist. If possible, drop it into a glass of milk. If no milk is available, then place the tooth in the mouth between the cheek and gum.
- A young child who has had a tooth knocked out may not be able to safely "store" the tooth in his or her mouth without swallowing it, so don't give the tooth to a young child for safe-keeping in his or her mouth. Place the tooth in milk or have the child spit into a container and place the tooth in the cup with the saliva. The most important thing is to keep the tooth moist. Use a cup of water if nothing else is available.
- Come see us as quickly as possible. If getting to the office immediately after a tooth has been knocked out is impossible, then you may want to try slipping the tooth back into its socket. In many cases, it will slip right in. Make sure it's facing the right way. Don't try to force it into the socket. If it doesn't go back into place easily and without pressure, then it is better just to hold it between the cheek and gum or to keep it in milk, saliva or water.
Sometimes a tooth is knocked loose or comes partway out of its socket because of an injury. We call this an extruded tooth. If the tooth is not broken, and the nerve and blood vessels are still attached, the tooth may be saved. To save the tooth, you need to contact us right away. Leave the tooth in your mouth even though it is partially out of the socket. If needed, take an over the counter pain reliever and apply a cold pack to relieve pain until you reach our office.
Sometimes fillings or crowns fall out. In some cases, a filling or crown may become loose because there is decay underneath it. The decay destroys part of the tooth, so it no longer has a tight hold on the crown or filling. These situations are rarely an emergency. However, it can be painful because the exposed tooth tissue is often sensitive to temperature, pressure, or air. If you lose a crown, put it in a safe place and make an appointment to see us as soon as possible.
Don't wait too long. What is left of the tooth will not be as strong as your crown. It could be damaged more without the crown to protect it. Also, when a crown is missing for a long time, your teeth may move into the space where the crown was. If this happens, your crown may no longer fit.
Any injury to the gums or teeth can be very painful. At other times, you may have dental pain and not know why. For example, sudden pain may be caused by pieces of food that come in contact with a decayed area of the tooth. Food, hot, or cold may create pressure near the nerve and cause pain. The nerve inside the tooth also may be exposed if you lose a filling or crown.
Pain that gets worse over time can also be caused by food that's stuck between your tooth and gum. If you don't brush and floss well, the bits of food remain. Bacteria multiply in this area, and an infection of the tooth and gum may develop. This type of infection is called an abscess. It can be at the root end of the tooth (in bone) or in the gums. An abscess can be a serious health problem if it is not treated. If swelling inside or outside of the mouth is occurring, you need to seek help immediately either through our office or your medical doctor.
Call us to make an appointment so that we can evaluate the cause of your pain and get you back to health quickly.
Trauma to the lips, tongue, and inside of the mouth is quite common. The soft flesh of the lips and their exposed location make them vulnerable to injury. Any cut inside the mouth usually bleeds heavily because of the rich supply of blood to the area.
Many lip and tongue injuries occur during sport related activities. They often can be prevented through the use of a mouth guard. We can create a professional, custom fit mouth guard for you. Contact our office for more information.
At home, you can clean injured outer skin surfaces, with mild soapy water and a soft, clean cloth. To clean cuts inside of the mouth, rinse with salt water or a hydrogen peroxide solution (one-part hydrogen peroxide and one-part water). Be sure not to swallow this peroxide rinse. However, do not be concerned if it foams. This is what the rinse normally does when it contacts mouth tissue.
If your lip is swollen or bruised, apply a cold compress. If there is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth for at least 5 minutes. Using ice can help limit swelling, bleeding and discomfort. Wrap crushed ice in clean gauze or a clean piece of cloth and hold it on the affected area.
SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:
- Bleeding cannot be controlled with pressure and a cold compress
- You have a deep cut
- A cut, crosses the border between the lip and facial skin
- The lip is punctured
- An infection develops after an injury
- Swelling of the neck or floor of mouth occurs
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