Common Dental Emergencies: How to Handle Oral Health Injuries

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Accidents are inevitable. Whether you are reckless or are just down on your luck, the emergency unit may sometimes be your last destination of the day. Dental emergencies are part of that.

Common Dental Emergencies

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), each year an estimated 2 million visits are made to the hospital emergency departments in the U.S. for dental pain.

What Is A Dental Emergency?

The ADA defines dental emergencies as “a collection of potentially life-threatening diagnoses requiring immediate treatment to stop bleeding, remedy the infection, and alleviate severe pain.”

In short, a dental emergency can be any dental problem that requires immediate attention. However, not all dental injuries are emergencies.

If you have undergone dental trauma, have pain and swelling indicative of a dental infection, have pain that does not go away with medication, or are bleeding profusely, you may need emergency dental care.

Common Dental Emergencies and How to Handle Them at Home


One of the most tell-tale signs that you’re experiencing a dental emergency is if you are in pain. Toothache can be either a short but sharp shooting pain or a continuous dull numbing ache.

It is important to locate the pain and assess what might cause pain. Do you have an erupting wisdom tooth or a dental decay? 

What to do?

If you’re experiencing acute dental pain, thoroughly rinse your mouth with warm water. If your mouth is swollen, apply a cold compress to the outside of your cheek. Use dental floss to remove any food lodged between your teeth. 

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can prove to be effective in alleviating pain. However, be sure not to press the painkillers against your teeth or gums as they can burn your gums.

See your dentist right away to help prevent dental infections and to relieve the aching tooth. 

Chipped or broken tooth

While children are prone to breaking their teeth due to falls, certain adults are also at risk of chipping their teeth.

Chipped or broken tooth

Advancing age, genetics, poor oral health, and conditions like osteoporosis may be some causes of dental chipping.

A broken tooth can be a cause of serious oral pain and panic. Fortunately, your dentist will likely be able to save your tooth if urgent care is given.

What to do?

Save any broken pieces of your tooth and rinse them carefully. Only handle the dental crown to rid it of debris and dirt. Do not attempt to glue pieces of your tooth back together. 

Rinse your mouth with a warm saline rinse. If you’re bleeding, apply a piece of gauze to the area until the bleeding seizes. 

Apply a cold compress to the outside of your cheek or lip near your broken or chipped tooth as it can help relieve pain and keep any swelling down.

Visit your dentist’s office immediately for emergency treatment of dental injuries to the primary or permanent teeth.

Knocked-out tooth

A tooth can be knocked out due to great impact to the face like a blow to the mouth or while playing contact sports. A fully knocked-out tooth is called an avulsed tooth.

It has been reported that more than five million teeth in children and adults are knocked out each year due to accidents. Bleeding from the tooth gums and the soft tissues underneath is expected. 

Fortunately, the American Association of Endodontists informs that the tooth can be reinserted and replaced in the socket successfully if you take quick, immediate, and careful steps.

What to do?

Retrieve the tooth and only hold it by the crown of the tooth. Rinse off the root of a tooth that has been knocked out with water. Make sure not to scrub the root or remove any tissue fragments attached to the surface.

If possible, try to put your tooth back in its socket while making sure that it is faced the right way. Don’t force it in place.

If it is not possible to put your tooth back in place, put it in a small container of milk or a cup of water containing a pinch of table salt. Ideally, you should put the tooth in a cell growth medium such as Save-a-Tooth®.

Visit your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist has the best chance of reattaching your avulsed tooth within one hour of the incident.

Severe soft tissue injury

Oral trauma can also manifest in traumatic injuries to the tongue, cheeks, gums, and lips. This can cause bleeding and if left untreated can also cause infections of dental or oral nature.

What to do?

First, rinse your mouth with a mild saline solution (warm water containing a pinch of table salt). Use a moistened gauze and apply pressure to the bleeding site. Hold for 15 to 20 minutes.

You can alternatively use a caffeinated tea bag to control the bleeding. Tea contains tannic acid which helps shrink blood vessels, helps form blood clots, and slows bleeding.

If the bleeding does not stop, you should seek emergency dental care within 30 minutes. You may be referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon if the oral bleeding is uncontrollable.

Dental Abscesses

Untreated and deep dental caries (decay) may also be accompanied by a pimple-like projection in the surrounding gum tissue filled with pus called a dental abscess. 

Abscess Dental

Prolonged abscesses without treatment can lead to swelling of your face or jaw and may even spread to other parts of your body. 

An abscessed tooth is one of the most painful dental emergencies. The pain may persist until you see an emergency dentist. 

What to do?

To ease the pain at home, you can try rinsing your mouth with a mild salt-water solution several times a day. Doing so will also help to draw the pus towards the surface.

Visiting a dental professional is necessary due to the unpredictable and risky nature of abscesses. Your dentist may prescribe oral antibiotics for it and may drain the purulent fluid to get rid of the infection.

Missing filling or dental crown

Fillings can pop out during meals or due to certain other types of dental trauma. A missing filling or crown can be a hotspot for food lodgement in the tooth or in the space between, causing pain or hypersensitivity. 

What to do?

For searing tooth sensitivity, try chewing on a piece of sugarless gum and then using it to cover the exposed nerve. Over-the-counter dental cements are also available for temporary relief until you contact your dentist.

Put your restoration back if you can using OTC dental cement or adhesive. Avoid using thumbtacks to fill the space left by the missing filling. Seek immediate dental care for your lost or broken fillings.

 If your dental crown has broken, you should bring your restoration with you when you visit your dental practitioner. Do not use super glue to reattach a broken crown or bridge.

If the broken crown or filling has caused damage to the underlying tooth, your dentist may suggest a root canal treatment to help restore the function of your tooth.

What to do if it is not an emergency?

Some situations aren’t necessarily considered dental emergencies but will require dental treatment as soon as possible.

dental emergencies

For these situations, however, it is okay to wait to make a dental appointment at the dental office during regular business hours.

Examples of issues that do not require emergency care include:

    • Dull, aching, or mild toothache:
    Swish warm water in your mouth to relieve the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help you feel better.
    • Minor chips or cracks in the tooth: 
    If the cracks aren’t causing pain, you can wait until your dentist can see you. However, if the sharp edges of the tooth are irritating your tongue or cheeks, you can cover the area using orthodontic wax.
    • Broken orthodontic appliances like braces
    Broken braces are not considered an emergency unless you’re bleeding from your mouth. If a broken wire is poking your cheek or tongue, gently bend it away from the tissues using a blunt object. Then, cover the wire with orthodontic wax.
    • A foreign object stuck between your teeth
    If you have a piece of meat or a foreign object lodged between your teeth, you can try gently removing it using dental floss or an interproximal brush. Do not attempt to remove the object with sharp objects like a toothpick.
    • Minor injury to the soft tissues like a cut or sore
    Thoroughly swish your mouth with a warm saline solution or an antibacterial mouthwash. You should then apply gentle pressure to the affected area using a clean gauze or handkerchief for 15 to 20 minutes or until the bleeding stops.
    • Minor bleeding from the gums during brushing or eating
    Brush and floss your teeth gently twice a day and follow up with a fluoridated mouthwash. Repeat this regimen until you visit the dentist for a thorough cleaning and root curettage.

How to prevent dental emergencies?

There are a few ways you can avoid going to the hospital emergency room with pain, swelling, or other traumatic dental injuries.

Maintain basic oral hygiene: The ADA recommends brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day to maintain a clean and healthy mouth. Following up with a regular mouthwash can give your teeth and gums the extra protection they need.

Oral care

Visit the dentist regularly: Your routine dental check-up should be done at least twice a year at 6 monthly intervals. This allows your dentist to inform you of any oral conditions early on, allowing for a good prognosis. 

Wear protective gear: While playing combat sports, you should wear protective gear like mouthguards, helmets, and eyewear to prevent damage to your face as well as your body. 

Make smart diet choices: Be cautious of what you eat. A balanced diet with adequate water consumption can be crucial in maintaining your oral and systemic health. Avoid hard, crunchy, or sticky foods and smoking.

Avoid adverse habits: Stress habits like nail or pencil biting, jaw clenching, and teeth grinding can cause your enamel to erode. Seek medical attention for these troubling habits.

Why should I go to the ER?

Emergency room providers can give you the appropriate care to alleviate your pain and manage your symptoms. They do not perform restorative treatments such as a filling or crown, but they can give you medications to manage the symptoms in the meantime.

However, once you receive dental emergency care, it is still important to see your dentist for the management of dental conditions and to customize a dental treatment plan for you. Call your dentist as soon as you can.


A dental emergency is any injury to your mouth that can cause pain, discomfort, swelling, or bleeding.

If you think you’re experiencing an emergency, you should make an appointment with your dentist or oral surgeon to manage dental problems and prevent further infection.

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