• 1

Emergencies

Your tooth hurts. It's sensitive to hot or cold. It is throbbing. You can't chew because it hurts.

Injuries to the mouth may include teeth that are knocked out (evulsed), forced out of position (extruded) or broken (fractured). Sometimes lips, gums or cheeks have cuts. Oral injuries are often painful, and should be treated by a dentist as soon as possible.

What should you do?

The obvious answer is to call a dentist!

Some of the questions the dentist will ask you if you have a toothache are:

  • How long has it hurt?
  • Is it sensitive to hot or cold?
  • Is it a sharp or dull pain?
  • How much does it hurt?
  • Have you been taking anything for the pain?

The dentist or the dental staff will ask you those questions as a way to determine what type of emergency treatment will be required and how quickly you need to be seen in the office.

When you arrive at the dentist's office, he or she will do an oral examination to determine which tooth is bothering you and the source of the pain. The dentist may also need to take x-rays to help in the diagnosis. Treatment can then begin to alleviate the pain and address the problem. Some of the main reasons for a toothache include: decay, periodontal (gum) disease or physical trauma, such as being hit in the mouth with a baseball or hockey stick.

Common complaints associated with toothaches include that the tooth is sensitive to hot or cold liquid or foods or to sweets; there is often a throbbing pain; and sometimes there is what is called referred pain. "Referred pain" means you might have a pain in your ear or in the lower jaw, but it's really caused by a tooth.

It used to be that if you had a toothache, the tooth probably would be extracted. Today, dentists focus now on preserving the tooth. In most cases, pain can be resolved without removing the tooth. Dentistry is making great progress in helping people keep their teeth for a lifetime.

The following are some types of oral injuries and what can be done:

  • Knocked-out tooth — Do not scrub the tooth or remove any attached tissue. Instead, rinse it carefully in running water. Gently insert and hold the tooth in its socket. If this isn't possible, place the tooth in a cup of milk or, in the absence of milk, cool water. Bring it and the patient directly to the dentist within 30 minutes, if possible.
  • Loose tooth — If the tooth is pushed out of place (inward or outward), it should be repositioned to its normal alignment with very light finger pressure. Do not force the tooth into the socket. Hold the tooth in place with a moist tissue or gauze. Again, it is vital that the injured individual be seen by a dentist within 30 minutes.
  • Broken tooth — Gently clean dirt from the injured area with warm water. Place a cold compress on the face near the injury to decrease swelling. Go directly to the dentist.
  • Bitten or cut tongue, cheek, or lip — Apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. Apply cold compresses to swollen areas. If the bleeding doesn't stop, go to a hospital emergency room.
  • Objects caught between teeth — Do not attempt to remove the object with sharp or pointed instruments which could cut the gums. Instead, carefully guide dental floss between the teeth. If this doesn't work, go to the dentist.
  • Possible broken jaw — Do not move the jaw. Secure the jaw in place by tying a scarf, handkerchief, necktie or towel around the jaw and over the top of the head. Apply cold compresses to swollen areas. Go immediately to a hospital emergency room or call your dentist.
  • Toothache — Do not place aspirin on the aching tooth or gum. Rinse the mouth with warm water. Floss to remove any food that might be trapped between the teeth. See your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Problems with braces and retainers — Cover the ends of irritating wires with a small cotton ball, beeswax or a piece of gauze until you can see your dentist. Do not attempt to remove a wire that is stuck in your cheek, tongue or gum. Go to your dentist immediately. If an appliance becomes loose or a piece breaks off, take the appliance and piece to the dentist.