A dental emergency can strike at any time. It may start with an emergency toothache and turn into a throbbing headache that causes you to lose sleep or prevents you from eating or drinking. An emergency dentist can address oral problems if the pain becomes intolerable or the symptoms are getting worse. Dental emergencies can even be life-threatening, so let’s discuss the characteristics of a dental emergency and what constitutes a dental emergency.

What Is a Dental Emergency Versus a Medical Emergency?

The American Dental Association warns that if you experience extremely severe tooth or gum pain, bleeding that does not stop, or swelling that restricts your breathing; you need to call 911 right away.[1] These things go beyond the scope of an emergency toothache and require immediate medical intervention in a hospital. 

The ADA also defines “urgent” dental care as necessary for issues that need immediate attention but aren’t life-threatening.[1] To understand the significance of your symptoms, you must contact your emergency dentist for advice. 

Non-Emergency Dental Issues

Some dental issues are not emergencies and do not require calling your dentist to request an emergency appointment. A chipped or cracked tooth might look bad, but it doesn’t require emergency dental service unless you are in severe pain or there are sharp fragments in your mouth.

Sometimes, a filling, crown, or bridge might come loose. Dislodged dental prosthetics are also not considered to be dental emergencies. Nonetheless, you should contact your dentist to schedule an appointment as soon as they can see you during regular business hours.

While minor chips and cosmetic issues don’t typically require emergency dental service, it’s always better to be safe, so contact your dentist if you aren’t sure.

What Constitutes a Dental Emergency?

Dental emergencies are usually at least one of three things: uncontrolled bleeding, abscess, infection, cellulitis that causes enough swelling to compromise an airway, and trauma to facial bones and teeth that affects breathing.[1] It can be hard to know if these conditions apply to you without consulting a professional, so here are common issues that an emergency dental professional will see. 

Toothaches, Broken Teeth, and Teeth That Have Fallen Out

Young Man Losing a Tooth

An emergency toothache is the most common dental emergency. A cavity, teeth grinding, or having something stuck in your teeth may cause toothache.[2] Unless there is a foul smell, pus, or extreme swelling in the area, a toothache isn’t usually a dental emergency, so it’s best to consult your dental professional during their regular office hours.

You may suffer from a chipped, fractured, or cracked tooth caused by trauma, grinding your teeth, or biting something hard.[2] The dentist may affix the broken piece back onto the tooth as a temporary measure until you can see an oral surgeon. In case of a fracture, the dentist will assess if the crack extends into the root and perform root canal therapy to preserve the tooth’s health. 

Accidents and injuries tend to damage teeth at the worst times possible. Not all injuries to a tooth count as a dental emergency; however, if you suffered an impact to your mouth and lost a tooth or cracked it to the root, urgent dental service is crucial to preserve the tooth and alleviate pain. 

You should address a knocked-out tooth immediately because a missing tooth can harm the tissues, nerves, and blood vessels. In some cases, the dentist will fix the tooth, but if the tooth is unrepairable, the dentist may need to perform a root canal. Hence, you should call an emergency dental professional immediately.

Dislodged Filling or Crown

If a tooth filling or a crown becomes dislodged while you’re eating, this exposes the tooth and will make it susceptible to temperature or pressure. Hence, requesting an emergency dental appointment is essential to avoid further damage and mitigate the pain and sensitivity. The dentist will reattach the crown if it still fits. However, if tooth decay is present, the dentist will treat the decay and then replace the crown.

Sharp Pain or Infection

If you are in severe discomfort because of a toothache, mouth sore, or gum issue, an emergency dental service could provide the necessary attention to relieve your dental pain. Any extreme pain should be checked out by a medical professional so that they can diagnose the problem.

A severe infection in the mouth, such as an abscess or a boil, is also a dental emergency because it could be life-threatening. If you feel knots in your jaw or swelling in your mouth, you should immediately contact a dentist.

Uncontrolled Bleeding From the Mouth or Gums

Minor bleeding or sore gums can signify gingivitis, an early and reversible stage of gum disease.[2] However, uncontrolled bleeding from the mouth is a dental emergency, and you should see a dentist immediately, for it might be a sign of a more serious issue.

Facial Trauma, Jaw Pain, or a Broken Jaw

Young Woman Sitting On the Couch With Severe Jaw Pain

If you have jaw pain or believe that you might have broken your jaw, your best option is to see a dentist immediately. Your dentist will provide you treatment options for fractured jaw or jaw pain.

Facial bone injuries can affect the upper jaw, lower jaw, and cheek, potentially compromising the patient’s airway. If you suffer a broken or dislocated jaw, you may be unable to speak, open your jaw all the way, or close your mouth. Your teeth may be loose or missing. If you experience jaw pain after an injury or a fall, you should contact a dentist right away.

Treating Dental Emergencies

When you encounter a dental emergency, you may not visit your usual dentist. Many dental practices provide emergency appointments to existing and new patients. 

Our dental staff consists of licensed professionals who offer the leading dental emergency treatments for patients. Dental emergency treatments may include a root canal, tooth extraction, and the treatment of bridges or crowns. In a dental emergency, our dentist will perform an oral exam and digital X-ray exam to evaluate the severity of the crisis then immediately treat it. Following dental emergency treatment, our experienced dentist will discuss any other necessary follow-up treatments.

If a dental emergency is left untreated, it may result in infections that require future extensive dental treatments to fix the issue. A dentist’s proper diagnosis is the surest way to immediate toothache relief and potentially prevent running into a more significant problem. 

Here are some tips that the American Dental Association provides for dealing with common dental emergencies, which will set you up for success before you see your dentist. 

Let us hear from you. We know that even though dental emergencies can be scary and unsettling, they are fixable. Our dentists understand the sensitivity of an emergency dental situation. So call us when you require emergency dental care, and share this article with those who might need our services.