What Constitutes a Dental Emergency – And How to Deal With It

Dental pain is among the worst pains anyone can experience. Whether that pain is the result of a neglected cavity, an inflamed root or an abscess, when your teeth hurt, you want to eliminate the discomfort.

Dental pain is among the worst pains anyone can experience. Whether that pain is the result of a neglected cavity, an inflamed root or an abscess, when your teeth hurt, you want to eliminate the discomfort.

Girl patient goes to the dentist with a toothache in the dental office. Young woman holding the hand of a sick tooth

If you are lucky, your next visit by severe tooth pain will happen during office hours. If that is the case, you can merely call your regular dentist and see if they can fit you into their busy schedule. All too often, however, dental pain happens in the middle of the night, on holiday or over the weekend, when few dental clinics, and fewer private practice dentists, are around.

As medical professionals, dentists do provide emergency care for their patients, but how do you know whether your tooth problem is a real emergency or something that can wait until morning. Pain alone does not constitute a dental emergency, especially if you can soothe the discomfort with over-the-counter analgesics and topical treatments.

Even so, some tooth problems just should not wait. These are actual dental, and sometimes medical, emergencies that you must deal with as promptly as possible. Some examples of emergency dental situations include:

  • A tooth that has been completely knocked out — Prompt attention may be able to save the tooth, but if you wait too long, you will lose that tooth forever.
  • A severe abscess — An abscess is always a cause for concern since a rupture could spread bacteria through the bloodstream and create a real medical emergency. You should not mess around with an abscess; get treatment right away.
  • A pronounced swelling in your jaw or cheek — Swelling could be a sign of a previously undetected abscess, so you should seek a prompt diagnosis.
  • A toothache that is accompanied by a high fever — If you have a toothache and a high fever, you should call your family doctor right away. If you cannot reach your doctor, a trip the emergency room is in order.
  • An implant that has become dislodged — If you seek help right away, you may be able to save your implant and regain your healthy smile. If you wait, you may need to go through the implant procedure all over again.
  • An injury to your face or jaw — Any facial injury should be treated as an emergency, complete with a trip to the emergency room for immediate treatment.
  • A severe toothache — A toothache that is causing severe pain may constitute an emergency, especially if the pain does not respond to painkillers or topical treatments.

Each of these situations represents a real dental emergency, one that should be dealt with promptly, without regard to office hours. If your emergency is medical, like a high fever, a fractured facial bone or an abscess, you should head to the emergency room, or at least contact your doctor for instructions. If your emergency is entirely dental, like a severe toothache or a knocked out tooth, you should immediately call your dentist’s emergency number. Your dentist will give you further instructions, including how to care for your tooth until you can get to the office.