Injury to your teeth or the soft tissues of your mouth (gums, tongue, lips, etc.) can not only be painful, if not properly and promptly treated, it can require extensive and costly repairs later. Here are some common dental emergencies and tips for how to handle them.
Broken or chipped tooth
Save any pieces you can find, and rinse them in warm water. Rinse your mouth with warm water as well. If you are bleeding, apply gauze to the area until the bleeding stops. Hold a cold compress against your cheek or lip as needed to reduce swelling. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Find the tooth if possible, and holding it by the crown (rather than by the roots or lower portion), gently rinse the tooth with warm water. Don’t remove any tissue from it. If you can put the tooth back into the socket without causing further damage, do so. Be sure it is properly positioned. If it can’t be reinserted, put it in a glass of milk if available, or water with a pinch of salt. Use over-the-counter pain relievers as needed and as directed. See your dentist immediately. Teeth properly reseated in the socket within an hour have the best chance of being saved.
Thoroughly rinse your mouth with warm water, then use dental floss to attempt to free any food lodged between your teeth. To minimize swelling if it occurs, apply a cold compress to your cheek in the affected area. Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed and as directed. People used to be advised to hold an aspirin against the gums near the aching tooth, but you should NOT do this as it can damage the gum tissue. See your dentist as soon as possible.
Partially dislodged/loosened tooth
Use whatever gentle pressure (or lack of pressure) is needed to keep the tooth from falling out. Use gauze to stop bleeding, apply a cold compress to minimize swelling, take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed and as directed, and see your dentist as soon as possible.
See your dentist as soon as possible. Until then, put a piece of sugarless gum (sugared gum causes pain) into the opening. You can also buy over-the-counter dental cement and use it for this purpose. Use over-the-counter pain relievers as needed and as recommended.
An abscess is an infection around the root of a tooth or in the space between your teeth and gums. When not treated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body. See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice painful swelling of the gums or an open sore on the gums. Until you can get in, rinse your mouth with a mild salt water solution (approximately ½ teaspoon of table salt in 8 ounces of water) several times a day.
Soft tissue injury
If your tongue, cheek, lips, or gums are injured and bleeding, apply gauze or a tea bag to the injury site for 15 to 20 minutes, and also apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth in the affected area. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, see your dentist or doctor right away, or visit an emergency room.
If a crown comes off, slip it back on if possible. Over-the-counter dental cement, denture adhesive, or toothpaste can help hold it in place until you can get in to see your dentist. If you are in pain, clove oil applied to the site can help.
With luck, you’ll never have a dental emergency. But if you do, knowing how to respond can make it a less frightening, less painful, and less costly event.