February 6, 2012
Contact PDA: (717) 234-5941

What to Do in a Dental Emergency

Any type of injury to your teeth or gums should not be ignored. Knowing what to do in a dental emergency can make the difference between saving and losing a tooth. To stay prepared, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) suggests keeping your dentist’s emergency phone number readily available and pack an emergency dental-care kit, including gauze, saline solution and a small, sealable container.

Dr. Steven Parrett, a PDA member dentist in Chambersburg, describes a dental emergency as a condition involving the teeth, gums, dental appliances or restorations.

“If a sudden injury or accident occurs involving your mouth, call your dentist immediately,” Dr Parrett said. “It will make it easier for your dentist to provide better treatment with chances for better results.”

PDA recommends that you become familiar with the following dental emergency procedures to stay prepared:

  • Broken Tooth: Immediately rinse your mouth with warm water to wash away any impurities. Place ice on the injury area of the face to reduce swelling. If possible, find and save any tooth pieces. Immediately call a dentist.
  • Cracked Tooth: Though tiny cracks are common and tend not to cause problems, more severe cracks may require dental treatment. A cracked tooth is indicated by a sharp pain when you bite down or chew food and acute sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet or sour foods. If you experience these symptoms, avoid chewing with that side of your mouth and contact a dentist as soon as possible to determine necessary treatment.
  • Knocked-Out Tooth: Immediately find the tooth and rinse it in water, holding it by the crown (the part you see when you look in your mouth), not the root. Do not scrub the tooth or remove any attached tissue. If possible, insert and hold the tooth in its original socket. Otherwise, place the tooth in a container of milk. Immediately see a dentist.
  • Jaw Injury: If you believe your jaw is injured or broken, immediately place ice on the affected area and go to a dentist or hospital emergency room.
  • Tongue, Lip or Cheek Injury: Clean the injured area and immediately apply ice to reduce swelling. If bleeding occurs, apply direct pressure to the affected area with a clean cloth. If bleeding persists, proceed to a hospital emergency room immediately.
  • Broken Braces or Wires: If the broken piece is easily removable, it may be taken out. Broken pieces that do not cause pain do not require immediate attention. If a broken piece causes pain, cover sharp ends with dental wax, gauze or chewing gum. If a piece of wire is stuck in the tongue, gums or cheek, do not remove it and see a dentist immediately.
  • Toothache: If you experience pain in a tooth, rinse your mouth with warm water to cleanse the area. Use dental floss to gently clean around the aching tooth to remove any lodged debris. If the pain continues, contact a dentist.

“Delaying or ignoring any changes in the mouth can result in having more costly treatment later to remedy the problem, rather than just a minor repair done at the time of the change,” Dr. Parrett said. “Don’t delay, especially if a pain is severe or persistent. It may just be a popcorn hull lodged deep in the gum between the teeth, or it could be a root abscess that will require hospitalization if left untreated.”

It is just as important to follow the above procedures if a child injures his or her baby teeth, also called primary teeth. Other than biting and chewing, baby teeth perform several important functions. They aid in proper speech development, development of the jaw and facial muscles and help provide nutrition.

“Baby teeth act as guides and place holders for the alignment of the permanent teeth. In some instances, an injury to a baby tooth can have long term effects on the tooth bud of the developing permanent tooth in the jaw bone,” Dr. Parrett explains.


About the Pennsylvania Dental Association

Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately 6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association (ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients. PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.