How to Handle a Dental Emergency

Dental emergencies are common, but they don’t have to take you by surprise. Learning ahead of time how to handle a knocked-out or chipped tooth can mean the difference between keeping or losing the tooth, when an emergency does happen. 

The Wilhelm Dental Group offers emergency dentistry and walk-in services at our office in La Plata, Maryland. From Eric Wilhelm, DDS, and John Wilhelm, DDS, our expert dentists, here’s everything you need to know about dental emergencies and how to handle the emergency en route.

When is it a dental emergency?

Sudden or unexplained oral symptoms might not require emergency intervention. Even some dental injuries don’t need emergency care. For example, a minor chip to your tooth that doesn’t hurt can usually wait until normal business hours.

But a completely cracked tooth or persistently painful and swollen gums warrant a trip to the emergency dentist. Other dental emergencies include:

As soon as the emergency happens, follow the guidelines below and call our office so we can accommodate you as soon as you arrive. 

1. Keep knocked-out teeth and fragments moist 

In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to gently place your tooth back in its socket. Make sure to do so without touching the root. If you can’t get the tooth back in, keep it lodged between your gums and the inside of your cheek so it can remain intact. 

If your young child lost a tooth and might accidentally swallow it, place it in milk or in an ADA-approved tooth preservation device. Keeping the tooth in milk, rather than water, helps maintain its structure.

2. Reduce swelling with a cold compress  

If your face is swollen, hold a cold pack to the swelling to keep inflammation down. Cold can also help reduce pain. Just be sure you don’t put ice in direct contact with your skin — use a fabric-made cold compress or wrap ice packs in a thin cloth or paper towel to avoid frostbite. 

You should also apply the cold pack intermittently; for instance, keep it on for 10 minutes, then take it off for five minutes, and repeat until you get to the dentist’s office. 

3. Rinse your mouth with warm water 

If your mouth is dirty or bloody as the result of a dental emergency, gently swish warm water around to clean it. Don’t use salt, antiseptic mouthwash, or other rinses at this point. Stick to plain water until your dentist can advise you further. 

4. Control bleeding by applying pressure

Most dental emergencies naturally come with a bit of blood. If you find yourself bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a damp hand towel, tea bag, or gauze, if you have some on hand. This can help slow or stop the bleeding and will expedite treatment at the dentist’s office. 

5. Don’t use sharp tools to remove objects 

Sometimes dental emergencies arise when foreign objects, such as food or plastic, become lodged in between the teeth. If this has happened to you, first try to gently remove the object with dental floss. If that doesn’t work, or if it’s too painful to floss, just leave the item where it is until you can be seen by an emergency dentist. 

Don’t try to remove the object with a toothpick, plaque scraper, or another sharp object — this increases your risk of tooth and gum damage, and it might actually push the object further in between your teeth. 

If you're experiencing a dental emergency, call The Wilhelm Dental Group right away to let us know you’re on your way. We offer walk-in appointments for dental emergencies. 

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