Accidents and injuries happen, and that’s something we can’t always control. What we can control, however, is how prepared we are in case they do occur. This is especially true for dental emergencies. Knowing what counts as a dental emergency and how to seek emergency dental care will greatly improve your recovery and help decrease anxiety. After all, accidents and injuries don’t often announce themselves before they happen! NK Family Dental prioritizes dental patient education and preparedness — which is why we’ve created this resource blog post explaining what is considered a dental emergency, what to do if you experience one and how to best prevent dental emergencies in the first place.
What Is Considered a Dental Emergency?
While a number of dental or oral complications may cause some discomfort, not all can qualify as an emergency. The level of dental care required will be an important factor in determining whether your situation will fall under the emergency category. Because of this, your dentist will be the one to decide what constitutes a dental emergency, which is even more reason to contact him or her immediately if you feel like you require emergency-level care. Our blog posts “What Exactly Is a Dental Emergency?” and “How to Know If It’s a Dental Emergency” cover in detail what is and is not considered a dental emergency. As a refresher, however, here are some of the most common dental emergencies, according to Cigna and our previous blog posts:
- Extreme toothache
- Lost or damaged tooth due to an injury
- Broken, cracked or chipped tooth
- Infected oral abscess
It is best to contact your dentist first in the case of a potential emergency, as hospital emergency rooms are not set up to care for broken or chipped teeth. Your dentist will be able to assess whether you need to make an emergency visit to their office, make a regular appointment as soon as possible, or instead go to the emergency room. Examples of issues that may be a high priority but not require immediate treatment include minor toothache, a lost filling or a minor chipped tooth. Serious injuries — such as a broken jaw, severe lacerations or other serious trauma — are a medical emergency, requiring a visit to the nearest hospital emergency room.
With increased health concerns over COVID-19, we strongly advise dental patients not to seek treatment in a hospital or emergency room unless absolutely necessary. This is both to minimize potential exposure to the virus and to ease the currently overwhelming demand on hospital staff and resources.
Broken Tooth? Don’t Panic!
Whether your tooth is broken, chipped or lost, it’s important to remain as calm as possible in any potential emergency situation. The American Dental Association offers these steps to follow immediately following the advent of a dental emergency:
- For a lost permanent tooth — Keep the tooth clean and moist. Place the tooth back in the socket without touching the tooth root, if possible. You can also place the tooth between your cheek and gums, in milk, or in a tooth preservation product with the ADA Seal of Acceptance. You could also pack the tooth socket with clean gauze, a cotton ball or a tea bag if the tooth cannot be placed back in.
- For a cracked tooth — Immediately rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the area. Then, use a cold compress on the face to keep swelling down. Rinse and save any chipped or cracked pieces as you would with a lost tooth.
- For toothaches — Rinse your mouth with warm water. Then, gently use dental floss to remove any food stuck in between teeth. Do not place aspirin directly on the tooth or the surrounding gum tissues.
Once you have assessed the situation, call your dentist immediately. For emergencies after office hours, your dentist’s office will likely have an emergency option on the phone menu. This option may either connect you with your dentist, or an on-call emergency dentist. Explain your situation as calmly and with as much detail as possible to the dentist, who will be able to assess the severity of your concern. The dentist will then direct you on the next steps to take.
If you are out of town and far from your dentist, the ADA provides the Find a Dentist tool to help you locate dentists nearby.
How to Prevent an Emergency
While not all can be avoided, reducing your risk is possible by knowing common causes and prevention methods. Cigna cites such typical causes of oral injuries as sports, bike riding, car accidents, rough play between children and work-related accidents. Chipped or cracked teeth can be caused by hitting a tooth when drinking from a glass bottle or attempting to chew something very hard. An untreated oral infection can lead to an abscessed tooth — which in turn can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications if ignored.
To help avoid a dental emergency, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends wearing a mouthguard when playing sports or participating in physical recreational activities, as well as not chewing on hard food items (such as ice, hard candy or popcorn kernels). Also, never use your teeth to tear things apart or open bottles! Scissors and bottle openers, respectively, are the appropriate tools.
The best method of prevention is to be aware of your actions regarding your teeth and mouth. Maintain a thorough oral hygiene routine, and take extra preventive measures, such as using a mouthguard. All it takes is one mishap to cause a serious dental emergency!
Chicago Emergency Dental Care
If you’re looking for emergency dental care near Bucktown or Logan Square in Chicago, NK Family Dental is here for your needs. Dr. Nilofer Khan can assess your dental concerns based on her extensive dental education, training and experience. Located in the heart of Chicago, NK Family Dental strives to serve every patient with the highest level of care paired with the utmost compassion.