What to Do When a Dental Emergency Occurs

It’s an unfortunate fact that many people will go out of their way to avoid the dentist. Even in an emergency, past experiences may influence a patient’s decision to get the help they need. If an accident happens, you should take immediate action or risk causing more problems later. Here are some tips to help you decide what to do when a dental emergency occurs.

First and foremost, you don’t need to be afraid of the dentist. At Allred Dentistry, we strive to make our San Marcos, CA dental office as welcoming as possible. You can trust our clinicians to help you feel secure while we work, so you can have all the confidence that comes from a healthy smile. If you’re in the Encinitas, Oceanside, and San Marcos areas, call to schedule an appointment today!

Emergency Dentistry Basics

No one expects to need an emergency trip to see their doctor, but there are a variety of reasons why you might need to visit the dentist right away. Oral health issues are often very painful, too, leading most people to seek relief as soon as possible. Some of the most common reasons for an emergency visit include:

  • Lost tooth
  • Cracked or chipped dentition
  • Damaged wires or brackets
  • Tooth extraction
  • Dental infection relief
  • Wisdom tooth eruption
  • Restoring fillings/replacing crowns
  • Intense toothache or gum pain

When you first arrive at the office, a clinician or dentist will examine you to look for more obvious problems. Sometimes it’s easy to see what the problem is during a dental emergency. A lost tooth, chipped incisor or missing filling can all be identified with a cursory examination. In the case of severe toothaches, it may be difficult to spot the underlying cause.

Patients will most likely have x-rays are taken, no matter the damage. This helps your doctor see if there are any other problems that may have been caused by or associated with the main issue. For example, if a patient’s tooth falls out the clinician needs to know how the jawbone looks to see if any additional treatment is necessary. After the situation is assessed, your dentist will review treatment options with you to get the healing process underway.

When the Pain is Unbearable

Pain is often a powerful motivator, and patients suffering from oral health issues often find themselves in anguish. In that frame of mind, few people are ready to make big decisions about their dentition or the costs associated with its repair. That’s why pain management is one of the first things a doctor or clinician will do to help you feel better and think more clearly. To help you control the pain before you even get to the office, here are a few suggestions that may provide some relief.

  • Over-the-Counter Medications: Taking anti-inflammatory medications will help reduce swelling and dull the pain. While acetaminophen is also a good pain reliever, it won’t help with other issues.
  • Cold Pack: Using a cold compress will also help to reduce inflammation and lessen pain. Use a piece of cloth between the icepack and your face and apply it for 20 minutes at a time to avoid causing damage to your skin.
  • Salt Water Rinse: Mix some salt with warm water to make an effective rinse to cleanse the affected area. Salt is antibacterial and may help to reduce swelling, and cleaning your mouth out may help to dislodge anything causing additional pain.
  • Ointments and Dental Salves: Oral ointments are made specifically to numb areas inside the mouth.  Benzocaine is an ingredient found in a number of common over-the-counter products, but keep in mind they aren’t generally safe for child use.
  • Garlic and Cloves: These common household ingredients have been shown to reduce tooth pain. However, both have a very strong taste so they may not be the best choice for some patients.
  • Peppermint Tea: Sipping or rinsing with peppermint tea, or even sucking on a teabag, is an excellent way to dull toothaches. It has natural anti-inflammatories and antibacterial compounds that can have a modest numbing effect.

Getting your pain under control should be a priority. Patients can make rash decisions about their oral health, seeking an immediate end to their suffering. Once you are a bit more clear-headed about your situation, you and your dentist can discuss further treatment options as needed.

Emergency Tooth Extraction

At Allred Dental, our clinicians will do everything possible to save your original teeth during an emergency. Unfortunately, there are times when a tooth is just too damaged, infected, or decayed to remain. In these cases, your dentist may need to make an emergency extraction.

Such a procedure may be necessary for several reasons. If a tooth is cracked below the gum line, it cannot be repaired effectively and should be extracted right away. A similar course of action may be necessary for dentition that is severely decayed. Patients suffering from periodontal disease might also need an emergency extraction as teeth can become loose thanks to a receding gum line.

When a tooth is removed purposefully, your dentist will numb the area around the site before proceeding. Since pain management is a priority, discuss other options with your clinician if pain during the procedure is still a concern. Surgery may be necessary for broken or cracked teeth, but that option is only utilized when absolutely necessary. Your dentist will lift the tooth from its socket with a tool called an elevator, and will then be plucked out. 

Lost Dentition Preservation

There are times when it isn’t the dentist that’s responsible for losing a tooth. If you are unfortunate enough to have a tooth fall out by accident, there may still be a chance to save it. If you act quickly and call an emergency dentist it may be possible to re-insert the missing dentition! Following some simple steps will go a long way to helping your clinician make the repair successfully.

  • Do Not Touch the Root: First, you’ve got to find the missing tooth, but don’t grab it by the root. There are tiny, fragile fibers called periodontal filaments that are essential to healing. Pick up the tooth by the crown (chewing surface) instead. If the dentition shattered, try and pick up as many pieces as possible.
  • If Dirty, Gently Wash in Cold Water: Again being careful of the root, run the tooth under some cool water if it is dirty. Warm water may cause damage that will prevent reattachment. Only rinse the tooth, don’t try to scrub the dirt away yourself. If you can’t clean it effectively, avoid putting it back into your mouth.
  • Try to Reinsert the Tooth: If you can, attempt to slip the tooth back into its socket and gently bite down on a piece of cloth to prevent it from moving. After all, the safest place for your teeth is in your mouth!
  • Keep it Moist: If you’ve managed to reseat the tooth it won’t dry out in your mouth. If you can’t get it back in, though, you should find a sealable container and place it inside with some saline solution. Lacking that, use milk instead to prevent tooth cells from swelling and bursting as they do when submerged in plain water.
  • See Your Emergency Dentist Immediately: Even if you are able to return the tooth to its socket, the possibility exists that it will not heal properly. See your dentist for x-rays and a visual inspection to determine if there is any other damage and to learn the best way to save the tooth.

Storing your tooth is most important, especially since it can easily become misplaced. Make sure you store it in an easily identifiable container. Many patients have accidentally put their tooth in the wastebasket because it was wrapped in tissues or paper towels! Don’t try to glue your tooth together if it is broken, either. Your dentist has the tools and materials necessary to either fix or replace the tooth themselves.

Final Tips

Knowing what to do when you or a loved one has a dental emergency can be difficult. In a hectic situation, it can be difficult to remember all but the most rudimentary advice. Here are a few basic tips that can help you manage most situations before you get to see the emergency dentist.

  • Don’t use heat to help with pain or swelling.
  • Stay away from spicy or crunchy foods as well as extremely hot or cold liquids.
  • Don’t touch or scrub the tooth root.
  • Maintain regular brushing if possible.
  • Avoid using steroid creams.
  • Don’t place aspirin or any other pain reliever directly on the affected area

Everyone hopes that they can avoid accidental damage to their mouths. In reality, many such situations cannot be avoided. If you’re still wondering what to do when a dental emergency occurs, or if you incur one yourself, turn to Allred Dental. Call us to schedule an appointment today, and we’ll do our best to turn that damaged frown into a smile you can be proud of!

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