Sometimes it’s easy to know you when to seek emergency dental care, and other times it’s not so clear. A sore gum, a cracked tooth or broken tooth aren’t good signs, but are they emergencies? It’s important to know the difference between something that can wait a week, and something that needs immediate attention. Left untreated, seemingly minor problems can quickly turn into major issues.

When you need emergency dental care

Broken or Chipped Tooth – Broken or chipped teeth are usually the result of some sort of trauma — getting hit in the face by a stray ball, a fall that impacts your mouth, etc. Sometimes, a tooth can break or chip by biting down on something hard, such as nuts or a piece of hard candy. Sometimes, they’re a result of tooth decay. Whatever the reason, it’s important to get a broken or chipped tooth taken care of immediately. Left untreated, it may become infected and cause more serious or even irreparable damage to the tooth.

Cracked (Fractured) Tooth – A cracked tooth is also susceptible to infection and should be taken care of immediately. Like a chipped or broken tooth, waiting can lead to much more serious problems, even to the point of needing an extraction. The American Dental Society recommends immediately rinsing your mouth with warm water and placing a cold compress on your face to reduce swelling.

Extreme Pain – Most people suffering the extreme and relentless pain of a “toothache” don’t need to be told they need emergency care — they can’t wait to see the dentist to repair whatever is causing so much misery. Remember that pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong, and it’s not going to go away until you address the cause of the pain.

Knocked Out Tooth – A knocked out tooth is an emergency and it’s important to get to the dentist as soon as possible. If you can get yourself and the tooth to a dentist within a half-hour, the dentist can often re-implant it successfully. Longer than that, and the chances are greatly reduced. According to the American Dental Society, it’s essential to keep the tooth moist by placing it in your mouth between your cheek and gums or submerging it in a jar of milk for the trip to the dentist. If your regular dentist can’t see you, get to a dental clinic immediately!

Abscessed Tooth – An abscessed tooth is an infected tooth and is a dental emergency. Usually by the time the abscess appears, the infection has reached the tooth’s root. The abscess often needs draining before the tooth can be treated, and antibiotics prescribed to knock out the infection.

Jaw Injuries – If you injure your jaw and it swells or you have trouble opening and closing your mouth, you need to see a dentist immediately to make sure it’s not broken. Place a cold compress on your face in the interim to reduce swelling.

When a dental emergency occurs, don’t try to “tough it out” with self-treatments that will only treat and mask the symptoms. Contact your dentist immediately to seek emergency dental care.

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