Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that 64.4 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 visited their dentists during 2016. But far too many people forgo regular dental care due to costs, fears, and lack of accessibility. Since oral health (or lack of it) can indicate overall health and well-being, skipping those yearly appointments can have major consequences. Not only can it leave you more vulnerable to cavities and gum disease, but it can also lead to a higher risk of oral cancers. In addition, your oral health may be linked to the development or management of cardiovascular disease, premature birth, diabetes, endocarditis, osteoporosis, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s disease.
And then, of course, substandard preventative care can also make you more prone to experiencing a dental emergency. If you’ve ever chipped a tooth or lost a crown, you’ll be familiar with the panic that courses through your body when you realize it’s a long weekend and won’t be able to see your dentist for several days. You might even feel guilty for letting your oral issues go on for so long, which might make you even less likely to seek out immediate treatment (even when it’s readily available). But it’s essential to prioritize your health over any feelings of embarrassment–and the first step is educating yourself on the situations you could experience and how to handle them. In this post, we’ll outline some examples of common dental emergencies and fill you in on the steps to take if you need emergency dental treatment.
Common Dental Emergencies
- Chipped or Cracked Tooth: Whether you’ve fallen onto the pavement, hit in the face during the big game, or bit into a hard piece of food, it’s possible that you could chip or crack a tooth. Although a minor chip or crack may not require immediate attention, a more pronounced crack or severe chip should be attended to right away. It’s possible you could sustain nerve damage to the tooth or injure yourself further due to the sharp edges of the chip.
- Loss of Permanent Tooth: If your tooth is knocked out completely, you’ll need to pursue emergency dental care. You should handle your tooth as little as possible. If you can, see if the tooth will stay in the socket for the trip to your dentist. If it doesn’t rinse off the tooth and place it into a container of milk to keep it moist. Then, apply a wet compress to stop the bleeding and head to your emergency dental provider.
- Facial Pain or Tissue Injury: Although preventative dental care can keep your mouth in good shape, accidents can still occur. When you’ve sustained a facial injury, you might experience pain in your jaw or severe bleeding in the mouth. Whether or not you’ve lost or damaged any teeth, your oral health and well-being will still fall under your dentist’s care. While you may be able to seek out emergency care elsewhere, it’s a good idea to contact your dentist first.
- Severe Infection or Toothache: It’s possible that you might experience significant pain from what’s called an abscessed tooth. Dental abscesses occur when an untreated infection develops after a pocket of pus has formed inside the tooth. Because this infection can quickly spread into your jaw and other parts of the body, it’s essential to seek out care right away if you experience swollen lymph nodes, tooth sensitivity and pain, swelling, and a raised bump on the gum line.
It’s important to evaluate whether the situation you’re experiencing is truly urgent. While some providers will offer emergency dental implants or can accommodate you immediately if you’ve lost a crown, these incidents may be able to wait until you can secure an appointment with your dentist during regular business hours. Generally speaking, patients who are not in severe pain, who have not exhibited swelling or injury, who are not bleeding, or who have not lost their teeth may be able to delay treatment until your own dentist is available.
Where to Seek Treatment for Dental Emergencies
If you’ve concluded that you do need help right away, you’ll have a few options at your disposal. Your regular dentist should be your first contact if you’re in the midst of a dental emergency, particularly if the incident takes place when businesses are open. Your dentist may offer emergency services as part of his or her treatment options, so it’s often best to contact the office first. If nothing else, the staff there may be able to recommend the next best option. Your dentist may have an on-call substitute or may have a colleague who practices emergency dental care.
While local urgent care centers can offer treatment for countless medical conditions, these facilities may not be able to provide the level of oral treatment you need if you have a more serious injury or an abscess. However, an urgent care clinic is certainly a viable option if you feel your condition is non-life threatening and do not have access to alternatives in your area. There are many providers that offer walk-in emergency dental services that you may want to consider, as well. If you’ve knocked out or chipped a tooth, for example, this should be your next resource. Alternatively, your local hospital is a good option if you have soft tissue injuries, jaw dislocation, intense bleeding, or severe swelling.
We all hope that the most serious dental incident we’ll face is being told we aren’t flossing enough. But if you or a member of your family experiences one of the conditions outlined above, you’ll know exactly what to do in order to secure the proper treatment.