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Updated on December 30, 2022
4 min read

Emergency Dental Care: What is Considered an Emergency?

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If you have an injury affecting your teeth or severe dental pain, seek emergency treatment. Any of the following may be considered a dental emergency: 

  • Cracked, chipped, or broken teeth
  • A knocked-out tooth
  • Loose or broken crowns
  • Dental abscess
  • Severe toothache
  • Ongoing gum bleeding
  • An object stuck in your mouth

When is a Dental Abscess an Emergency?

Because it is difficult to predict how a dental infection will spread, it is best to assume that any tooth abscess is an emergency.

If you have visible gum swelling, especially if it’s painful, seek dental care as soon as possible. 

When is a Toothache an Emergency?

A toothache is considered a dental emergency if:

  • It lasts longer than a few days
  • It becomes more severe over time 
  • The pain spreads to other areas, such as your jaw or ear
  • You also have a fever

When is Emergency Wisdom Tooth Removal Necessary?

Wisdom tooth removal usually isn’t an emergency procedure, even if the teeth are impacted. However, if your wisdom teeth are causing an abscess or a severe toothache, you may need emergency wisdom tooth removal.

What is Not Considered a Dental Emergency?

If the condition does not worsen without immediate intervention, it is not a dental emergency.

However, some dental issues should be treated as soon as reasonably possible, even if they aren’t emergencies. These include:

  • A mild toothache
  • A cracked or chipped tooth that doesn’t cause any pain
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Mouth sores

These issues don’t require immediate treatment, but they aren’t likely to get better if neglected. You should still make an appointment with your regular dentist to address them.

How to Find Emergency Dental Care 

If your emergency happens during your dentist’s normal hours, call them as soon as possible and let them know. Dentists generally have time between appointments to provide emergency care.

If you need emergency dental care on weekends or holidays, you can still try calling your dentist. If you do not get a response, they may provide a voicemail message that provides instructions for dental emergencies.

If you live in a major urban area, there may be 24-hour emergency dental clinics nearby. Search in your browser for emergency dentists in your area. An emergency dentist or hospital emergency room can provide care if your regular dentist isn’t available.

How to Prepare for an Emergency Dental Appointment

Before your emergency dental visit, you can reduce pain, swelling, or bleeding by doing the following:

  • Rinsing your mouth with warm water
  • Applying pressure to the affected area
  • Applying a cold compress to the area in 20-minute intervals
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever

Note that these are temporary measures, and aren’t a replacement for prompt treatment from a dentist or doctor.

When you arrive at the dentist’s office, let them know what you’ve done to manage the pain, swelling, or bleeding. Be sure to let them know if you’ve taken any medication.

What Not to Do

If your emergency involves a broken tooth or crown, be sure to avoid chewing or putting pressure on the affected side of your mouth. If the tooth has a sharp edge, you can apply dental wax to protect your gums.

If you have an object stuck in your gums or mouth, do not attempt to remove it with anything sharp or pointed. You need to see a dentist or doctor if it can’t be gently pulled out.

When to Visit a Hospital (Emergency Room)

If your dentist isn’t available and you have no emergency dental clinics in your area, you may need to go to the hospital. Severe oral or dental pain, especially if it spreads or is combined with a fever, requires urgent medical attention.

While hospital staff may not provide ordinary dental care, they can provide antibiotics, pain relievers, and emergency surgery if necessary.

Paying for Emergency Dental Care

An emergency appointment can be expensive, especially if you don’t have dental insurance. However, some dentists may offer payment plans. 

You can also check out other low-cost dental care options, including government dental clinics, dental school services, charity dental clinics, and discount dental plans. Learn more about affordable emergency treatment options here.

How to Avoid a Dental Emergency

To avoid an emergency caused by a dental infection, you should visit your dentist regularly. They can catch dental problems before they reach the emergency stage.

You should also maintain good oral hygiene and a balanced diet that supports your oral health. Many dental emergencies happen due to preventable oral health problems, such as tooth decay.

Dental emergencies due to trauma are harder to predict. However, wearing an athletic mouthguard during contact sports can prevent or reduce sports injuries.

Summary

A dental emergency is any issue affecting your teeth or gums that will worsen without immediate attention. This may include an abscess, a painful broken tooth, or a broken crown.

Your first point of contact for a dental emergency should be your regular dentist. However, if you have an emergency outside their normal hours, you may need to find an emergency dentist or hospital.

Don’t wait to get care if you are in severe pain, especially if you also have a fever, swelling, or bleeding. Emergency dental care can treat the problem and prevent it from getting worse.

Last updated on December 30, 2022
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on December 30, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Dental Emergencies.” American Dental Association.
  3. Emergency Treatment.” American Dental Association.
  4. Down, Jim, and V. Mitchell. “Wisdom Tooth Extraction under General Anaesthesia.” Hospital Medicine, 2000.
  5. Sakkas, Nikolaos, et al. “Orbital Abscess after Extraction of a Maxillary Wisdom Tooth.” British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, 2007.
  6. Singh, Nishi, et al. “Wisdom Tooth—Complications in Extraction.” The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice, 2014.
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