Dental emergencies are what bring even the most reluctant person to the dentist. Among the many different types of dental emergencies, pain and broken teeth are among the most common. Certainly the most appropriate course of action is to see a dentist immediately. Since this is not always possible, I will provide measures you can take at home to temporarily cope with a dental emergency until you can get to the dentist.
A painful tooth is most commonly caused by an untreated cavity that spreads to infect the tiny nerves and blood vessels within it. The tooth will be sensitive to cold, then hot foods or beverages, later to biting down, and finally it will begin to hurt all the time. The best way to manage this before you go to the dentist is to avoid eating on the side of the mouth with the painful tooth. You should not have any hot, cold or sweet foods, and you should take over-the-counter pain medication. For people without conditions or on medications that prohibit non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), I recommend 400-800 milligrams of ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or 200-400 milligrams of naproxen sodium (Aleve). For people who cannot take NSAIDS, I recommend 500-1000 milligrams of acetaminophen (Tylenol). Follow instructions on the bottle, or ask your pharmacist. In general, the more a tooth is bothering you before you go to the dentist, the more difficult it is for the dentist to treat you comfortably. So, the sooner you get to the dentist, the better.
Broken teeth are another reason that people come to the dentist. Teeth break for many different reasons. Teeth can break when eating hard foods such as pretzels or chewing ice, from trauma during an accident, or because a cavity has weakened the tooth. If you cannot get to the dentist soon, avoid eating on the side of the mouth with the broken tooth, and eliminate hot and cold food or beverages. If there is a sharp edge of the tooth that is irritating you cheek or gum, put a piece of wax or a small piece of sugarless bubble gum over it. Some drug stores carry over the counter temporary filling material that can be placed on the broken tooth until you get to your dentist.
Always remember that broken teeth are highly susceptible to cavities and deeper infections that may require root canal therapy or extraction if treatment is delayed. Your dentist should repair broken teeth as soon as possible, regardless of whether you feel pain or not.
It is important that you are able to reach your dentist quickly in the event of a dental emergency. Find out if your dentist has a beeper or paging system set up in the event of an emergency, and keep that number handy. Most important, make sure your dentist is available to you for advice and treatment in the event of a dental emergency.