While most dental problems, such as general toothaches and lost fillings or crowns, aren't emergencies and can wait until you make an appointment during normal business hours, some dental symptoms shouldn't be ignored. Emergency dentists are usually on call or have open hours beyond those of a general dentist office.
Seeking emergency treatment is vital if you've lost a tooth. With prompt attention, an emergency dentist might be able to reinsert the tooth and preserve it so you don't have to get an implant to fill the space. Handle the tooth by the crown, which is the exposed part that sticks out of your gums. Don't remove any tissue from the tooth, and avoid touching the roots to minimize the risk of damaging them.
Rinse the tooth under a gentle stream of water to clean it, and try to insert it into the socket, gently biting down to hold it in place. If you can't reinsert the tooth, place it in a small cup of milk until you get to the dentist. The sooner you get emergency treatment, the more likely it is that the dentist will be able to save your tooth.
A cracked or fractured tooth is a serious problem that requires emergency dental treatment. When this happens, there may be damage to the inside of tooth in addition to what you can see. Rinse your mouth gently with warm water, and avoid any topical pain relievers until you see a dentist. Some gels marketed for tooth pain can burn the gum tissue. Acetaminophen can help alleviate any pain, and a cold compress will help reduce any swelling.
Your emergency dentist will take an X-ray to assess the condition of the pulp inside the tooth. If it is damaged, the dentist may need to perform a root canal. If the pulp looks good, you may simply need a crown to protect the outside of your tooth.
Small chips that aren't accompanied by pain aren't usually an emergency, but you still need to make a prompt appointment for your dentist to look at your tooth. While you're waiting, chew carefully and avoid hard and crunchy foods that could worsen the problem.
A severe toothache or mouth pain can indicate a serious infection, such as an abscessed tooth. If you're experiencing severe pain, it is extremely important to seek immediate medical attention with an emergency dentist or at your nearest emergency room. Signs of an abscess include fever, sensitivity to hot and cold, tender lymph nodes in your neck, swelling, and pus-filled bumps along your gums. Any severe mouth or facial pain due to a facial injury is also cause for a trip to the emergency room, particularly if you suspect you may have damaged your jaw.
If you're not sure whether your problem qualifies as an emergency or not, err on the side of caution. Even if your dentist's office isn't typically open for emergencies, calling the office number after hours should put you in touch with an answering service or recording with instructions on what to do in an emergency.