From the soccer field to the dinner table, dental emergencies can strike when and where you least expect them, often at the most inconvenient times. Since you may not be able to immediately see an emergency dentist, it’s important to know that there are a few things you can do — and things you should NOT do — to alleviate pain, minimize further damage, preserve your teeth, and avoid infection.
A possible sign of a cavity or a serious bacterial infection, a toothache should not be ignored. This is especially true for children. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that over half of school-aged children aged 5-9 have at least one cavity. If left untreated, tooth decay can affect a person’s ability to speak, eat, and concentrate.
See your dentist as soon as possible at the first sign of a toothache, and in the meantime, thoroughly rinse your mouth with warm water. Remove any lodged food with dental floss and apply a cold compress to the outside of your mouth or cheek if there is swelling. Never put any painkiller (like aspirin or ibuprofen) against the gums near the aching tooth because it may burn the gum tissue.
Dental trauma is extremely common, especially among children. Statistics from the American Academy of Family Physicians show that one-third of five-year-olds have suffered an injury to their primary teeth, and one-fourth of 12-year-olds have suffered an injury to their permanent teeth. For all types of dental trauma, see your dentist as soon as possible. You have a much better chance of saving your tooth if you can get to a dentist within 30 minutes to an hour.
If the tooth is chipped or broken, save any pieces. Rinse your mouth with warm water and use gauze to stop bleeding. To keep swelling and pain down, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth, near the affected tooth. For knocked-out teeth, hold the tooth by the crown (the part that is exposed in your mouth) and rinse off the root with water, being careful not to scrub away any tissue fragments. Try to reinsert the tooth in your mouth, facing the right way, but never force the tooth into its socket. If it’s not possible to reinsert the tooth, put it in a small container of milk, or water with a pinch of table salt, or into a Save-a-Tooth kit. When the tooth is only partially dislodged, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek and take an over-the-counter pain reliever (such as ibuprofen) if needed. Don’t use aspirin for pain relief, as it interferes with clotting.
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 sharp object to poke at what’s stuck as you risk causing injury to your gums and getting scratches on your teeth.
Stick a piece of sugar-free gum into the cavity. Don’t use sugar-filled gum, as the sugar will cause pain. You can also use over-the-counter dental cement. See your dentist as soon as possible.
If the crown falls off, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. If possible, try to place the crown back into your mouth. To do this, first coat the inside of the crown with an over-the-counter denture adhesive, to help hold the crown in place. Never use ‘super glue’ as it is toxic to teeth, gums, and nerves, and could cause a root canal to be necessary.
Prevent and Prepare
There are ways to prevent many dental emergencies, or at least to be prepared for dental first aid. Practicing excellent oral hygiene by brushing three times a day and flossing once a day is the first rule in prevention. Also, see your dentist at least twice a year. Discourage the habit of chewing on pencils, ice and hard candy, as well as using teeth for tearing off clothing tags or opening food containers, which can cause tooth fractures. People with fillings and crowns should especially avoid foods that are hard and sticky, such as taffy and caramel. Children and adults in contact sports should wear mouth guards. There is a range of options available, from standard to custom-fitted mouth guards.
Keeping a dental emergency kit handy will prepare you to immediately address common dental emergencies. Designed for temporary use until you can get to a dentist, some kits contain everything you need to handle situations ranging from toothaches to lost crowns and fillings. Other kits are intended for specific emergencies, such as dental trauma, and are ideal to have on hand during sporting events and other activities.
You never know when a dental emergency will strike but being prepared will keep you from panicking and help you handle the situation appropriately to minimize the damage. It’s also important to have a relationship with a good dentist who can handle emergency dental situations. It’s great to know what to do in an emergency but eventually, you will need the assistance of a professional you can trust.