Patient Education Dental Emergencies

There are times when a dentist is needed right away. Dentistry does not have set rules on how to prioritize patients' needs. Sometimes the priority is obvious. A life threatening infection is more serious than a broken denture. When adult teeth are knocked out, they must be put back as quickly as possible. Baby teeth that are knocked are not replaced, so often children who have had such a tooth knocked out can wait.

Swellings are potentially the most serious dental emergencies. Swellings within the mouth (intraorally) are usually due to infection. Cancer, cysts, injuries, and blocked salivary ducts can cause swellings. Treatment of intraoral swellings can wait for a day or two unless the patient has a fever, trouble swallowing or trouble breathing. If any of these conditions exists, and you cannot see your dentist immediately, go to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible.

The accidental loss of an adult tooth (avulsion) requires immediate treatment. That tooth must be put back into its socket as quickly as possible. Teeth that are reimplanted within 30 minutes have a high rate of recovery. After 30 minutes, the success of reimplantation falls off dramatically. Many dentists recommend that lay people on the scene of the accident attempt to reimplant the tooth to save time. Rinse the tooth gently with milk, the patient's saliva, saline solution (the medical term for salt water) or water. Do not rub the tooth to clean it. Press the tooth firmly into the socket. Ask the patient to hold the tooth in place. Don't worry about lining it up perfectly. Even a front tooth that is reimplanted backwards can be fixed later with a crown. Teeth that are forced out of position, but not knocked out also need to be attended to quickly. Dentists will try to numb the area and press the tooth back into its original position. The repositioned tooth may become discolored or develop a root canal infection, but repositioned teeth usually have a good prognosis.

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Fillings, crowns and bridges fall out for various reasons. Cement can wash out. Part of the tooth might break. There may be tooth decay. These problems may be a nuisance, unaesthetic, uncomfortable, bad tasting, and even odiferous. However, loose crowns, bridges and fillings do not require immediate treatment. Call your dentist, explain the problem and make an appointment for a time that is convenient for you both. If there is an uncomfortable hole or sharp area, you can fill or cover it temporarily with sugar free chewing gum.

A broken adult or baby tooth usually does not require emergency treatment. Teeth are formed in three layers. The inside of the tooth is the pulp. The pulp is composed of nerves, blood vessels. If this layer is penetrated when the tooth breaks, then the tooth will need root canal treatment. The middle layer is the dentin. Dentin can be sensitive, but a break through dentin need not be treated right away. Chips and broken pieces of enamel, the outermost tooth layer, are sometimes left untreated. For a broken tooth, call the dentist for a convenient appointment. Cover the tooth with soft, sugar free gum if it is uncomfortable.

While a broken denture is not an emergency, it can be a serious cosmetic and functional problem. Sometimes, broken dentures can be repaired while you wait. That depends on what broke, what caused the break and what the denture is made of. The wearer must take the denture to a dentist. The dentist will examine the condition of the patient's denture, teeth and gums to try to determine why the denture broke. Then, the fit of the denture is checked. If the denture no longer fits well, the denture could break again or cause other problems. Keep in mind that this is not a do it yourself job. Most of the lay people who try to fix a cracked denture or replace a tooth that fell out cause increased damage to their prosthesis.

Most of the emergency calls a general dentist receives are not emergencies at all. Usually, they are treated with a phone call. A good rule of thumb with a newly noticed condition that is not painful or swollen is that the patient can wait for a convenient time to see the dentist.

Anyone participating in a sport that carries a significant risk of injury should wear a mouth guard. Sports like rugby, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, and volleyball all pose risks of injury to your teeth jaw bone and the gums. A mouth guard can prevent serious injuries such as concussions, cerebral hemorrhages, and incidents of unconsciousness, jaw fractures and neck injuries by helping to avoid situations where the lower jaw gets jammed into the upper jaw.

Mouth guards are effective in moving soft issue in the oral cavity away from the teeth, preventing laceration and bruising of the lips and cheeks, especially for those who wear orthodontic appliances. Any Dentist can make custom mouth guards for you.

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