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Dental emergencies can happen at any time day or night and range from an agonising toothache to a knocked-out tooth. A calm, rational response can help prevent tooth loss or any permanent damage, so here are some handy tips in case a dental emergency occurs.
How soon should I see a dentist?
Most injuries to the mouth should be treated by a dentist as soon as possible. Getting there within 30 minutes can make the difference between saving or losing a tooth. Most dentists reserve time in their daily schedules for possible emergencies, so explain the full condition to staff so they can fit you in immediately.
How do you respond if you have a…
- Knocked-out tooth: The first step is to stay calm and find the actual tooth. Handle it by the crown (the top), not the root, without scraping or rubbing away any tissue fragments. If possible, rinse the tooth quickly in milk or some saliva to remove any dirt or debris. Then try to gently hold it in place in the socket. If you’re not able to replant the tooth, keep it moist by immersing it in milk or saliva (not water), sealing it in plastic wrap, or placing it in the person’s mouth next to the cheek. Time is critical in saving the tooth so contact the dentist immediately for an emergency appointment.
- Chipped, fractured or cracked tooth:
Clean the area by rinsing the mouth with warm water. Use an ice pack wrapped in a clean towel or a cold compress on the face if needed to reduce swelling. The urgency depends on the severity but only a dentist can discern how serious the condition is. It’s better to be safe than sorry – head to the surgery as soon as possible.
Rinse the mouth with warm water to clean it out. If swelling is present, place a cold compress to the outside of your mouth or cheek. Gently use dental floss to remove any food caught between your teeth. Do not put aspirin directly on your aching tooth or gums as it may burn the gum tissue. For quick relief, ask your dentist or pharmacist about any over-the-counter pain medication. If the pain persists, see your dentist as soon as possible.
- Bitten lip, tongue or cheek
This often occurs during eating or as a result of a fall. Clean the area gently with warm, salty water. Then apply pressure to the area with an ice pack in a clean cloth or a cold compress to the area outside to reduce bleeding and limit any swelling. If bleeding continues after about 15 minutes, see your dentist or go to the emergency room.
This is a localised infection that usually forms at the root of the tooth or in the space between the teeth and gums. This painful condition can actually damage tissue and surrounding teeth and if left untreated, it can cause more widespread infection and may be life threatening. So it’s important to see your dentist as soon as possible. Regular warm salt water rinsing can also help alleviate discomfort until you’re able to see your dentist.
- Lost filling or crown
If a cavity develops underneath a filling or crown, it can become loose and eventually fall out. It can be rather painful because the exposed middle layer (dentine) of tooth will be sensitive to any hot or cold foods. A new filling or crown will be needed so visit your dentist as soon as you can for a solution.
How can you prevent a dental emergency?
There are simple precautions to help prevent certain injuries to the teeth. When participating in sport or recreational activities, always wear a custom-made mouthguard that is designed and fitted by a dentist.
When opening a pack of chips, a bag of peanuts or other plastic containers of food products, always use scissors rather that your teeth. Also, try not to chew on hard objects such as ice, pens, nuts or even a brutal baguette!
*Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.