Feature Archive

Do-It-Yourself Dentistry

Dental problem? You don't have to be MacGyver to save a lost filling or replace a crown.

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

On their wedding day, most brides hope for sunny weather and that the photographer and band show up as planned. Not me. My wedding day wish was that my mother would not experience a dental emergency.

Seem like a strange wish for the bride? It shouldn't. Growing up, there was rarely a special occasion, vacation, or even a long weekend when my mother did not, say, lose a crown, lose a bridge, or merely require an emergency root canal.

As a result, the trip or event was cut short so she could track down her trusted dentist. Recently, I feared this was genetic when an otherwise silent (but impacted) wisdom tooth became infected as my husband and I vacationed in Florida. Fortunately, I found a local dentist who prescribed a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection until I could have the tooth extracted.

Dental SOS

Turns out it's not genetic as such dental emergencies are rather common. In most cases, however, there are things to do when you can't find the dentist - other than cutting your hard-earned vacation or leisure time short.

Like most other medical situations, an ounce of prevention and a little forethought is worth a pound of cure. "The better job you do at keeping up with the conditions in your mouth, the less likely dental emergencies are to occur," stresses Tom A. Howley Jr., DDS, president of the Academy of General Dentistry and a dentist in Perkiomenville, Pa. "If you are going to go out of the country or to a remote area, see your dentist far enough in advance so that you have time to get work done if needed."

For example, "if I were going to Europe with a temporary crown on my teeth, I would see my dentist prior to my trip to make sure everything is stabilized," says Warren Scherer, DDS, the chairman of the department of general dentistry and management science at New York University College of Dentistry in New York City.

But if a toothache should occur, a crown should fall out, your gums become inflamed, or any other dental emergency crops up, don't panic; there are easy things you can do to stop the pain and preserve the function until you can visit a dentist.

First things first, rinse the area with warm salt water to flush it out and make sure there is no debris that may be causing the discomfort, Howley says. Traditional over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin) may also help curb the pain. "If the pain is due to the underlying layer of your teeth -- the dentin -- becoming exposed, you want to cover the area with sugar free gum or wax," he says. Some drug stores sell kits with material to plug up the exposed area. But, he cautions, such do-it-yourself sealants are usually only good for 48 hours. "Get to the dentist as soon as possible." If you should fall and break or chip a tooth, cover the exposed area in the same manner, he says. And don't fret if you swallow it because 99% of time it will pass uneventfully.

Find a Filling?

If a filling falls out, try and keep the lost piece to show your dentist. It's also important to keep the tooth clean by brushing gently with toothpaste and lukewarm water and to avoid eating in this area. "There are temporary restorative materials that contain zinc oxide that are sold over-the-counter that can plug up the hole until you see the dentist," says Warren Scherer, DDS, the chairman of the department of general dentistry and management science at New York University College of Dentistry in New York City. Two such products include Temparin and Dentemp OS. These products are the same as those that can be used to cover an exposed tooth surface.

Coronation Ceremony

Crowns or caps fully cover the portion of a tooth that lies at and above the gum line. But if you lose one, you have to try and put it back in, Howley says. Here's how: Clean it out thoroughly, and either buy paste in a drugstore or mix your own with Vaseline and corn starch. "Mix it to be a pretty thick paste," he says. Then, put the paste in the crown, place it on the tooth, and bite down gently until it's seated. "Wipe off extra glue that will seep out," he says. "It doesn't taste great."