As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, dental offices have been among the many businesses impacted. While some have temporarily closed, many are still seeing patients for emergencies only. You can probably guess that a tooth stain doesn’t constitute a dental emergency, but what does warrant calling your provider right away? It will probably vary based on your dental practice and the guidelines they’ve put in place; however, we’re here to explain what problems are usually considered urgent.
What is considered an emergency?
A dental emergency is typically an issue with your mouth — whether it’s your teeth, gums, or tongue — that is extremely painful or even life-threatening. According to the American Dental Association1, if you experience severe tooth or gum pain, bleeding that won’t stop, or swelling that restricts your breathing, you should see your dentist or call 911 right away. The ADA also defines “urgent” dental care as necessary for issues that need immediate attention but aren’t life-threatening.
Below are a few common situations that warrant urgent or emergency dental care.
When a tooth gets knocked out, you need to take action right away to increase the chances of saving it. If the tooth stays out of your mouth for more than an hour, it’s less likely that the dentist can reimplant it. After the tooth is knocked out, pick it up by the chewing surface, or the crown, rather than the root, which can damage fibers essential for reinserting the tooth2. The ADA recommends trying to place the tooth back in the socket, but you can also keep the tooth moist while transporting it to the dentist by placing it inside your cheek or in milk3. Do not use tap water, as this can damage the root4.
For a fractured tooth, the ADA recommends rinsing your mouth with warm water and placing a cold compress on your face to reduce swelling5. Your provider can offer several solutions, depending on the extent of the fracture. A minor crack may be repairable with a filling or a root canal and crown. More serious fractures may require extracting the tooth6.
An abscess is a severe infection in the mouth and can occur on the gums or a tooth root. It is typically caused by bacteria that inflame the tooth pulp due to a cavity, gum disease, or a fracture. This pus buildup can cause severe pain, swelling, fever, tooth sensitivity, and a bad taste in your mouth. Your provider may need to drain the infection, provide antibiotics, perform a root canal, or extract the tooth7.
Other potential emergencies
Here are other issues that could warrant an immediate trip to your dentist, according to the ADA1:
- Dislodged or displaced tooth
- Lost, broken, or painful dental restoration (e.g., a crown or bridge)
- Multiple cavities causing pain (learn more about the signs of a cavity here)
- Objects stuck in the mouth
- Orthodontic wire causing discomfort or injury
- Denture adjustments or repairs
What isn’t considered an emergency?
Routine procedures, such as dental exams, cleanings, and X-rays, aren’t emergencies. Contact your dental provider if you need to reschedule an appointment. Here are a few other procedures that aren’t considered emergencies unless you’re experiencing serious discomfort1:
- Tooth fillings
- Orthodontic procedures
- Cosmetic procedures (e.g., teeth whitening)
If you’re not sure whether you have an emergency or what to do about your dental problem, call your provider. They can discuss your symptoms and advise you on the next steps to take. You can view the ADA’s list of emergency and non-emergency dental services here.