How to Handle a Dental Emergency
What do you do when a dental emergency strikes? The most important thing is to keep a clear head. It’s easy to make the wrong move when you are in pain or an accident has put your teeth at risk. If you don’t think things through, you might actually make things worse. Here are some easy-to-remember tips for how to handle a dental emergency until you can get an appointment to see your dentist.
Check around the tooth and gums for any food that may be lodged there, causing swelling or discomfort. Gently clean and floss around your tooth. Apply a cold compress to your jaw to help numb the area and limit swelling. Consider using a home remedy for toothaches such as clove oil or cayenne pepper. If you need an oral painkiller, choose one like Tylenol or ibuprofen that won’t increase your tendency to bleed. Aspirin makes your blood thinner which could be a problem when you go in to have your tooth treated surgically. It can also burn your gums, so never put aspirin or other pain killers directly on your tooth. If swelling begins to interfere with your breathing, or if you are running a fever, this is a potentially life threatening dental emergency. Don’t wait it out – get to a hospital right away.
If you chip or fragment a tooth, keep any pieces that you can find. Rinse out your mouth with warm water and use sterile gauze to stop any bleeding. This may take some time since gums tend to bleed a lot. Use an ice pack on the outside of your mouth to address swelling. The same instructions apply for a tooth that is loose but not actually knocked out of your mouth. Stay away from hot or cold beverages since these may cause pain. Use Advil or Tylenol to manage discomfort until you can go to the dentist. It’s sometimes possible to save the broken pieces of a tooth if you get help fast enough.
Tooth Knocked Out
This is a serious dental emergency, but not an irreversible one. If you get your tooth to a dentist within an hour, there’s a good chance it can be reattached. The best environment for your tooth to be while you are waiting to have it repaired is actually in its original position in the tooth socket. You can place gauze over it and gently bite down to hold the tooth in place. If the tooth is dirty, you can rinse it very gently in water (don’t scrub it). Don’t touch the root of the tooth – just the crown.
It isn’t always possible to reinsert a tooth immediately. However, it’s still important to keep it moist. Pour some milk into a small container and place the tooth in that for transport to the dentist’s office. Your own saliva is also an excellent storage medium. Either spit in a container or hold the tooth in your mouth (be careful not to swallow it). Salt water will work for storing/transporting the tooth if you don’t have any other options.
Lost Filling or Crown
If a filling comes out, you may need to plug the hole temporarily to limit tooth sensitivity. Sugarless chewing gum or temporary dental filling material from a local pharmacy will do in a pinch. Or, you can use dental cement to seal off the exposed area. If a crown comes loose, you can reattach it temporarily. Only use products that are safe for dental purposes including dental cement, toothpaste or denture adhesive. These are only temporary fixes to address an immediate dental emergency. You’ll need the tooth repaired as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Don’t chew on that side of your mouth until you get your tooth restored. If your lost crown or filling has exposed the nerve root, you can use a topical oral anesthetic swab or clove oil for temporary relief. Oral anesthetics can be used on gums and surrounding tissue. Don’t put clove oil on anything but the tooth since it can cause irritation to mucous membranes.
It’s amazing how much pain a simple piece of popcorn shell or a corn chip can cause if it’s lodged in your gums or between your teeth. Flossing or gently using a toothpick is the safest way to remove these bits of debris. If you have a shish kabob splinter or other object protruding from your gums, you may be able to have a friend grasp it with a pair of tweezers and safely pull it out. Never use a sharp object to dig around in your gums or between your teeth. You may cause more soft tissue damage or chip your tooth.
This type of dental emergency can usually be addressed with dental wax. You can press loose brackets back into position temporarily with this sticky substance. You may also use wax to cover up broken wires or other components that are abrading the inside of your cheeks or your tongue. You can try to bend the titanium wire out of the way with a Q-tip or pencil eraser if it is broken or bent out of position. If any of your braces components come off, save them and take them to your dentist. If you think you may have swallowed any portion of an orthodontic appliance, pay close attention to your breathing. Any discomfort in your lungs might mean you actually inhaled the broken piece. If that’s the case, you’ll need immediate medical attention.