Handling Dental Emergencies
Any injury to the teeth or gums can be potentially serious. Ignoring a dental problem can lead to delays in treatment, which can increase the risk of permanent damage as well as the need for more extensive and expensive treatment down the road.
Here's a quick summary of what to do for some common dental problems.
- Toothaches. First,
thoroughly rinse your mouth with warm water. Use dental floss to remove any
lodged food. If your mouth is swollen, apply a cold compress to the outside of
your mouth or cheek. Never put aspirin or
any other painkiller against the gums near the aching tooth because it may
burn the gum tissue. See your dentist as soon as possible.
- Chipped or broken teeth.
Save any pieces. Rinse the mouth using warm water; rinse any broken pieces. If
there's bleeding, apply a piece of gauze to the area for about 10 minutes or
until the bleeding stops. Apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth,
cheek, or lip near the broken/chipped tooth to keep any swelling down and
relieve pain. See your dentist as soon as possible.
- Knocked-out tooth.
Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown (the part that is usually exposed in the mouth), and rinse off the tooth root
with water if it's dirty. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue
fragments. If possible, try to put the tooth back in place. Make sure it's
facing the right way. Never force it into the socket. If it's not possible to
reinsert the tooth in the socket, put the tooth in a small container of milk
(or cup of water that contains a pinch of table salt, if milk is not
available) or a product containing cell growth medium, such as Save-a-Tooth. In all cases, see your dentist as quickly as possible. Knocked out teeth with the highest chances of being saved are those seen by the dentist and returned to their socket within 1 hour of being knocked out.
- Extruded (partially dislodged) tooth. See your dentist right away. Until you reach your dentist's office, to relieve pain, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek in the affected area. Take an over-the-counter analgesic (such as Tylenol or Advil) if needed.
- 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 pin
or other sharp object to poke at the stuck object. These instruments can cut
your gums or scratch your tooth surface.
- Lost filling. As a temporary measure, stick a piece of sugarless gum into the cavity (sugar-filled gum will cause pain) or use an over-the-counter dental cement. See your dentist as soon as possible.
- Lost crown. If the crown falls off, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. If you can't get to the dentist right away and the tooth is causing pain, use a cotton swab to apply a little clove oil to the sensitive area (clove oil can be purchased at your local drug store or in the spice aisle of your grocery store). If possible, slip the crown back over the tooth. Before doing so, coat the inner surface with an over-the-counter dental cement, toothpaste, or denture adhesive, to help hold the crown in place. Do not use super glue!
- Broken braces wires. If a wire breaks or sticks out of a bracket or band and is poking your cheek, tongue or gum, try using the
eraser end of a pencil to push the wire into a more comfortable position. If
you can't reposition the wire, cover the end with orthodontic wax, a small
cotton ball, or piece of gauze until you can get to your orthodontist's
office. Never cut the wire, as you could end up swallowing it or breathing it
into your lungs.
- Loose brackets and bands. Temporarily reattach loose braces with a small piece of orthodontic wax. Alternatively, place the wax over the braces to provide a cushion. See your orthodontist as soon as possible. If the problem is a loose band, save it and call your orthodontist for an appointment to have it recemented or replaced (and to have missing spacers replaced).
- Abscess . Abscesses are
infections that occur around the root of a tooth or in the space between the
teeth and gums. Abscesses are a serious condition that can damage tissue and
surrounding teeth, with the infection possibly spreading to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Because of the serious oral health and general health
problems that can result from an abscess, see your dentist as soon as possible
if you discover a pimple-like swelling on your gum that usually is painful. In
the meantime, to ease the pain and draw the pus toward the surface, try
rinsing your mouth with a mild salt -water solution (1/2 teaspoon of table salt in 8 ounces of water) several times a day.
- Soft-tissue injuries. Injuries to the soft tissues,
which include the tongue, cheeks, gums and lips, can result in bleeding. To
control the bleeding, here's what to do:
- Rinse your mouth with a mild salt-water solution.
- Use a moistened piece of gauze or tea bag to apply pressure to the bleeding site. Hold in place for 15 to 20 minutes.
- To both control bleeding and relieve pain, hold a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek in the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes.
- If the bleeding doesn't stop, see your dentist
right away or go to a hospital emergency room. Continue to apply pressure on the
bleeding site with the gauze until you can be seen and
Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Dentistry.
Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 7:33:44 AM
Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson ,MD, January 2004, WebMD.
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004.