There is never a good time for a dental emergency, but holidays seem to be the worst — especially this year when many of us feel more comfortable attending family and social gatherings and enjoying seasonal activities. However, pent-up demand for fun can increase the risk for cracking or chipping a tooth on foods such as nuts and hard candy, or knocking a tooth loose during a backyard sports competition or overly rambunctious play — which is more likely to happen to children when they’re left to their own devices outdoors. And let’s not overlook the adverse effect that alcohol can have on physical coordination and judgment.
Of course, a holiday dental emergency isn’t always the result of a mishap. An abscessed tooth knows no season — nor do other dental problems that suddenly occur. But the inconvenient timing could make you reluctant to seek the immediate treatment that’s necessary and hope a severe toothache just “goes away” on its own, or a tooth cracked down to the gumline can hang in there until mid-January. Spoiler alerts: It won’t, and it can’t!
We at NK Family Dental understand that you don’t want to interrupt your holiday plans for what may or may not be a dental emergency. With that, we will focus on how to recognize the signs of a dental emergency and what to do if you have one. Keeping calm and knowing what to do can make the difference between escalating a bad situation, or getting treatment that ultimately results in a good outcome.
What is 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 if your situation is an emergency. 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, 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 (infection around the tooth’s root or gum line)
A lost filling or crown is an emergency if you experience any signs of infection, as bacteria can spread to other areas of your body. This can lead to sepsis — a life-threatening infection — if left untreated. Signs of a tooth infection include the following:
- Severe pain, especially pain that does not respond to pain relievers
- Swelling in the affected part of your jaw or face
- Trouble opening your mouth or moving your jaw
Which Situations are Not Dental Emergencies?
Again, only your dentist can make this determination. When you call your dentist’s office and explain your circumstances, your dentist should be able to advise you on whether you need to be seen that day, or schedule an appointment for a later date. Situations that may be considered urgent but not an emergency include the following:
- Lost filling that does not involve the risk of infection
- Minor toothache
- Minor tooth chip that does not go deep into the crown and does not cause bleeding
How to Seek Treatment for a Dental Emergency
Your immediate steps depend on many factors, including the nature of your emergency, your dentist’s availability, or your proximity to the nearest dental office. If you are able, call your dentist first to see how they recommend treating the condition and to set up an appointment. Even if it’s after regular business hours, your dentist’s office may have an emergency number you can call to contact an on-call emergency dentist. Calling your dentist first ensures that you will be given the best recommendation for fast treatment.
Do not go to a hospital emergency room unless your condition involves a medical emergency, such as a jaw fracture. Hospital ERs are not equipped to handle a knocked-out tooth, or a severely cracked or abscessed tooth. Our blog post — “So You Lost a Tooth! How to Handle Accidental Tooth Loss” — covers steps for recovering, preserving and transporting a tooth lost to trauma to improve the odds of having it successfully re-implanted by a dentist.
The Take-Home Message
Although a dental emergency is never convenient, experiencing one during the hectic holiday season is even more stressful. Calling your dentist immediately is essential to receiving timely treatment if the situation is a true emergency, or scheduling an appointment if it is urgent but not an immediate threat to your oral or general health. Hopefully, whichever turns out to be the case, you’ll be able to finish the year with a bright, healthy smile — and plenty to smile about!
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including dental, orthodontic, and periodontal services. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, general dentist associate Dr. Yang, our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh, and our endodontist, Dr. Sabek.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.