So what, exactly, qualifies as a dental emergency? In many cases, it's the level of pain or discomfort you're experiencing. Other times, it's a situation that, if not treated immediately, can lead to more complex problems. A third scenario may require an initial visit to the emergency room, followed by an appointment with an emergency dental specialist. In all instances, if you're suffering severe pain, call your dentist immediately, especially if you have a:
- Lost tooth: When a tooth gets knock out (known as an avulsed tooth), the first thing to do is find it, and clean it (rinse, but don't scrub, the tooth). If you can, put the clean tooth back in the socket, but don't force it. Otherwise, save the tooth in a clean cloth, or a glass of cold milk or pure water with a little salt if possible [source: WebMD].
- Toothache: Generalized tooth pain can be difficult to diagnose. A gentle brush, floss and rinse may dislodge hidden substances. If the pain persists, it could indicate a more serious problem, including infection.
- Cracked or fractured tooth: Often hidden, usually painful, a cracked or fractured tooth can be the proverbial tip of the iceberg, leading to root canal work or even a crown if left untreated. If the pain is unbearable, don't hesitate to contact an emergency dentist. If not, you run very little risk by having it examined during normal business hours.
- Chipped tooth: A chipped tooth may not require immediate emergency care, but ought to be diagnosed quickly after the accident. Assessing the corresponding pain is a good guideline. If the pain isn't driving you to distraction or causing you to lose sleep, make an appointment.
- Broken jaw: Any injury serious enough to break your jaw can have an impact on your dental work, too. Ice will reduce the swelling, but you'll want to get to the emergency room immediately. From there, doctors may recommend additional dental care.
- Broken braces: Dental apparatus such as braces and wires can quickly turn from friend to foe when damaged. If the equipment is cutting into the soft tissue of your mouth, try to gently push it back into place. Then call your dentist and orthodontist to arrange for a more permanent repair.
Remember, this is a partial list. Other injuries can include, but aren't limited to: loose crowns, lost fillings, items caught between your teeth or between your teeth and gums (such as popcorn kernel shells), inflamed or bleeding gums, an extruded tooth (a loose tooth that's been pushed from its socket, but is still being held by soft tissue), or even a bitten tongue and/or lip (which can typically be repaired in a more traditional emergency room setting, if stitches are required).
How prevalent is the need?