Most dentists provide after-hours emergency service or emergency referrals to partner dentists that do perform these services. The key is knowing what constitutes a dental emergency. The following guide describes several common scenarios that necessitate an immediate call to your dentist.
Issue #1: Knocked-Out Tooth
Acting quickly is the key to saving a knocked out tooth. It's only an emergency if it is an adult tooth – baby teeth are usually of no concern unless there is major tissue damage. Handle the tooth by the crown and do not remove any tissue that is attached to it. You can rinse it gently in water if it is dirty. Then, either put it back in place in your mouth, if possible, or place it in a cup of milk. Call your dentist immediately, since they may be able to schedule and emergency appointment to re-implant the tooth.
Issue #2: Broken Tooth
The type of break determines whether this is an emergency. A small chip that has no pain isn't an emergency, and you can schedule an appointment during regular hours. Just save the chips, if possible, because there are cosmetic procedures that can use them to repair the tooth. If the tooth is broken with a crack or fracture in it, call your dentist immediately. Your dentist will need to perform an emergency root canal or apply a temporary crown so infection doesn't get into the damaged tooth.
Issue #3: Loose Tooth
Occasionally a tooth may be knocked loose or out of alignment. If possible, move the tooth gently back into its proper place and call the dentist for an emergency appointment. Your dentist will need to connect the tooth to the neighboring teeth with a temporary bridge or splint while the gums heal and retighten around the tooth. Otherwise, the tooth may come out or stay out of alignment.
Issue #4: Gum or Cheek Damage
Severe tissue injuries in the mouth, with or without cracked or broken teeth, is both a dental and medical emergency. If the bleeding isn't too severe, call your dentist first to see if they want you to come into their office or go to an emergency room. For severe damage or if the bleeding isn't slowing down, go straight to the emergency room.
Issue #5: Severe Abscess or Infection
Swelling below or around a tooth, combined with extreme tooth pain and possibly a fever is the sign of an abscess infection. Call the emergency line to see how your dentist wants to proceed. In some cases, your dentist may have you come in immediately so they can drain and treat the infection. Other times, the dentist may prescribe emergency antibiotics so you can begin overcoming the infection, but then they will schedule a visit during normal business hours.
If you aren't sure whether something is an emergency, contact your dentist and find out. Generally, if there is little to no pain, and your natural teeth are all in one piece, you can wait until normal hours to make an appointment.
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