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How to Tell and What to Do if you have a Dental Emergency

This is the first in a series of articles we will publish over the next few weeks regarding Dental Emergency Rooms, Urgent Dental Care, Dental Emergencies, Emergency Dental Prevention and Dental Sports Injuries & Trauma.

Do you Know How to Tell and What to Do if you have a Dental Emergency?


One in four Americans will experience a dental emergency at some point in their lives.  Adults and children who participate in sports have an even higher risk of dental emergencies and oral injuries.  However, most of us don’t know what kinds of dental issues require urgent care. Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency or injury can mean the difference between saving and losing teeth.

Is It a Dental Emergency?

It is important to distinguish between a dental emergency and a situation that can wait for a normal dental appointment, as well as to know when it is better to seek medical treatment at a hospital emergency room. Any time you experience tooth, jaw or mouth pain, you should make an appointment to see your dentist. There are two cases aside from the obvious sports or impact injuries where a toothache indicates emergency treatment is warranted.

First, if the tooth reacts to hot or cold food or drink and the pain lasts for more than a few seconds, make an appointment to see your dentist.  Many people have sensitive teeth that may react to hot or cold; however, the pain recedes almost immediately. If the pain lingers, you may have a cavity or need a root canal and a crown. Only your dentist can distinguish between a sensitive tooth and decay or infection, so it is important to make an appointment and have your dentist examine the tooth. Moreover, with the current technology and the right dentist, root canals are virtually painless. If your tooth aches all the time and the pain keeps you up at night or worsens when you lie down, you should call your dentist immediately. Such pain may be a sign of infection, and dental infections are serious medical emergencies.

When you Call, Be Prepared to Answer Questions from Your Emergency Dentist…

When you’re suffering from dental pain or impact trauma, the last thing you want to do is answer questions. However, answering them helps the dentist evaluate the situation and devise the best treatment option.

Your dentist may ask some or all of the following questions:

  • How long have you been in pain?
  • Which tooth or what area of your mouth is in pain?
  • Does hot, cold or pressure make it hurt? Does it keep you from sleeping?
  • How painful is it? Is it a sharp or dull pain?
  • Have you taken any medication for the pain? What have you take, and how recently?
  • Do you have any other symptoms? Fever, swelling, chest pain?

Common Dental Emergencies

Some situations constitute dental emergencies but do not cause pain. A loose tooth, for example, is a dental emergency, yet it may not hurt. The following list presents some of the more common dental emergencies:

Relieving Pain

There are steps you can take at home that may temporarily relieve the pain until you get to the dentist. While it is important to get to your dentist as soon as possible, you may try the following:

  • If you have an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Motrin, Advil, or Tylenol, take it (as allowed by your physician.) DO NOT take aspirin! Do not place any kind of pill against your gum as this may burn your gum and make things worse. Over the counter pain relievers only work temporarily. You should still see your dentist. He or she will need to find and treat the underlying cause of pain to relieve it permanently. Remember, any infection can spread and become life threatening if left untreated.
  • Rinse your mouth every hour or so with warm salt water, or as needed, to help relieve the pain of an infection or a cavity.
    An ice pack or cold compress may relieve the pain if applied to your cheek over the area that hurts. Only apply cold for a maximum of 20 minutes, then let the area warm up for 20 minutes.
  • Do not travel by air. The change in air pressure may make the pain worse.

If you have a dental issue or injury that requires urgent dental care or if you think have a dental emergency and you need to visit a dental emergency room; in the Twin Cities, you should call Dr. Shamblott at 952-935-5599 or get in touch with your family dentist right away.

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