Handling a Dental Emergency: Chipped Tooth
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Medical emergencies can happen to anyone at any time. People usually conjure up the image of a trip to a hospital emergency room (ER) or, worst case, being rushed by ambulance to a hospital.

Dental emergencies are serious too. But what is considered a dental emergency? Chipping or breaking a tooth is a common dental emergency that can only be permanently fixed by a dentist.

But what if you chip or crack a tooth on a weekend or major Holiday?

Dental Emergencies - Holidays, Weekends, and After Hours

Traditionally we have seen an increase in dental emergencies around the holidays starting with Halloween and through the New Year. Here are some thoughts on factors which could be contributing:

  1. Risk for increased plaque buildup has been found to be linked to high fatty foods (holiday home cooking, etc.)
  2. Dehydration is also commonly found around the holidays. This is linked to high sodium traditional dishes using canned food items and drinking less water. Dehydration leads to dry mouth which in turn puts patients at risks for decay.
  3. Existing decay which may have been asymptomatic may become sensitive or painful from direct contact with sugary foods and drinks such as carbohydrate heavy dishes, desserts and soft drinks.
  4. We also see an increase in incidences of fractured teeth. this may be related to eating hard foods during this time of the year including but not limited to nuts, pecan pie, candied apples, etc.

As people travel, this time of the year is likely for emergencies to happen while out of town.

There is no good time for a dental emergency. Whether you break a tooth or a filling falls out, you need to see a dentist pronto. But if that emergency happens on a holiday or weekend, or outside of normal business hours, that only compounds the issue. But there are some steps you can take if you have a dental emergency over a holiday, weekend, or off-hours.

Start by calling your dentist and leave a message in case they check regularly outside of their normal hours. Your dentist might leave instructions on the recording as to what to do during an emergency.  If the emergency is severe enough, they might tell you to meet them at their office for treatment. 

If your dentist doesn't operate outside of their normal hours, seek out a dentist who does. That could be the fastest way to treat the problem. Don't forget to bring your insurance card if you wind up at a dentist who has never seen you before.

If your emergency involves a broken or knocked-out tooth, or if a crown has fallen out, bring it with you to the emergency dentist. In some cases, the dentist might be able to repair the break. If not, it will help the dentist design the resin replacement.

Pain and swelling can be controlled with a cold compress and over-the-counter pain relievers.

What is Dental Emergency?

The American Dental Association (ADA) defines dental emergencies as 1) potentially life threatening and 2) requiring immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding, alleviate severe pain or infection. Specially, let the following situations serve as signs that you should seek emergency dental treatment:

  • Bleeding that doesn't stop
  • Painful swelling in or around your mouth
  • Pain in a tooth, teeth, or jaw bone
  • Gum infection with pain or swelling
  • After surgery treatment (dressing change, stitch removal)
  • Broken or knocked out tooth
  • Denture adjustment for people receiving radiation or other treatment for cancer
  • Snipping or adjusting wire of braces that hurts your cheek or gums

Also, this article talks about having a dental emergency in a COVID context. Maybe you can re-write this piece of content and adapt it for more general pandemic tips for future reference.

How do you know if you have a dental emergency? For example, is a cavity a dental emergency?

This is a tricky question. It's hard to say without seeing it. That's where teledentistry can help. If a cavity or other issue is causing you concern, we encourage you to set up a virtual consultation. Discussing your concerns with a dentist on your smartphone, tablet or computer will help you decide if you need to set up an emergency appointment or if another route would be advisable.

What do you do if you have a dental emergency?

Let's start by recommending what NOT to do. DON'T go to your local ER or Urgent Care Center. For starters, they are needed at this time to preserve maximum capacity for COVID-19 and other emergencies. Also, most emergency rooms don't have dentists on staff. They may just end up prescribing painkillers or antibiotics which don't treat the underlying cause of the problem. Many dental offices are available for emergency appointments, and Smile Generation-trusted dentists are available for emergency dentistry seven days a week.

The Most Common Dental Emergencies 

Besides a broken tooth, which is covered in the following sections, here are five common dental emergencies that happen on holidays or weekends.

Toothache

This might not register on the same level as a broken tooth, but it can cause intense pain and needs to be examined by a dentist. 

For some relief, flush your mouth with lukewarm salt water several times. Then follow that up with brushing and flossing. This will remove any food particles that might be lodged beneath your gum tissue. Relieve the pain by applying an ice pack to your outside cheek near the throbbing area while taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Infected Tooth

If your cheek is swollen or you have a bump on your gums, you could have an infection or an abscess. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms around an infected tooth.   

Saltwater rinses and over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce swelling and ease the pain. But you need to see a dentist as soon as possible so call to schedule an emergency appointment.

Loose Tooth

A loose tooth needs to be examined by your dentist to establish why it has become loose and to determine the best treatment option. Until then, apply a cold pack to your cheek and use over-the-counter pain medication for some relief. Also, avoid consuming hard or crunchy foods. And try not to chew in the vicinity of the loose tooth.

Lost Filling

Fillings sometimes fall out. Save any of the filling pieces, if possible. Use some gauze to cover up any sharp tooth edges around where the filling was situated.

Faulty Dental Crown

Dental crowns, whether permanent or temporary, can come off. Chewing is the most common method that will dislodge the crown. Do your best not to swallow the crown.

Instead, try to save any pieces. Rinse what you were able to save. Then try to place it back on the tooth by securing it with either dental cement or toothpaste.

Dental Emergencies are Serious

What to do with a Broken Tooth?

This is a serious condition that will necessitate dental treatment. So you should know what to do when you have a broken tooth.

Save the broken piece, or pieces, of the tooth if you can find them. Then rinse your mouth and the tooth pieces with warm water. 

Apply gauze to the area if persistent bleeding results. Keep the gauze in place for 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Icing the area and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever will minimize swelling and pain until you can see a dentist.

What to do if You Lose a Tooth?

You can lose a tooth in several ways. Accidents and injuries are two of the most common. Regardless of how it occurs, losing a tooth is a dental emergency. 

Start by retrieving the tooth – hopefully, it is intact. Then immediately call a dentist. Rinse the tooth’s root gently with water. Don’t scrub the tooth, and don’t remove any attached tissue.

Gently try to insert the tooth back into its socket in its proper position. Don’t force it, though. If you can’t reinsert it, place the tooth in a cup of salt water or milk. A tooth that has been knocked out has the highest chance of being saved if it is replaced within an hour.

Chipped Tooth Pain Relief

If you’re asking what to do with a chipped tooth. We know a cracked or chipped tooth can be painful. There are some methods you can implement to alleviate the pain until you can see a dentist.

Use warm water to flush the inside of your mouth. Also, apply a cold pack to the outside of your mouth to minimize swelling.

Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can also bring pain relief. Be sure to follow the recommended dosage. Another pain relief option is to apply clove oil. The substance eugenol is found in clove oil. Eugenol is a numbing agent that has anti-inflammatory properties. Also, avoid biting down on the tooth until you can seek dental treatment. Biting down on the tooth will only exacerbate the pain.

Signs of a Cracked Tooth

Self-diagnosing a cracked tooth isn’t always that easy as some cracks might not be obvious to the naked eye. Your dentist might not be able to diagnose it even with an x-ray in some instances.

So you need to rely on your senses, meaning, can you feel if it is cracked? There are two main signs that will indicate you have a cracked tooth. First, you’ll feel it when biting down and chewing food. You also could suffer from tooth sensitivity when eating or drinking hot or cold foods and liquids.

So you think you've cracked a tooth. But is a cracked tooth a dental emergency every time? That all depends on the type of crack.

Cracks that Don't Need Treatment

Not all tooth cracks are created equally. So you need to answer the question is a cracked tooth a dental emergency? The type of crack will determine if it needs treatment.

One type of crack that probably won’t need treatment is a craze line. A craze line is a superficial, vertical line that appears in a tooth’s enamel. They are also known as the hairline or superficial cracks. They can be caused by wear and tear, bruxism, a misaligned bite, or even biting your fingernails.

Craze lines are cosmetic in nature and don’t require dental treatment.

Help Sign during Dental Emergency

Cracks that Need Treatment

Besides a craze line crack, most cracks need to be examined by a dentist since the depth of the crack and damage caused can be difficult to determine. 

A crack that leaves a tooth with uneven or sharp edges can cut the mouth’s soft tissues. Those types of cuts can cause more pain and produce infections. If the damage from a cracked tooth isn’t properly treated, bigger issues, such as a root canal or tooth loss, can result.

Cracked Molar

Cracks can commonly occur in molars. This is because they are in the back of your mouth. Molars also absorb the most force when you chew food such as hard candy or even ice cubes.

A cracked molar will need to be repaired if the crack has gone beyond the tooth’s enamel. The severity of the crack determines the course of treatment. Treatment options include a crown, a root canal, or even a tooth extraction.

Cracks that Need to be Treated Quickly

Some types of cracks produce the highest level of dental emergencies. Having a tooth knocked out, as mentioned, is one of those instances. Also, watch for any crack that results in heavy bleeding or one that leaves you writhing in pain.  

Protection with a Temporary Tooth Repair Kit

temporary tooth repair kit is simply that. Temporary. It can serve as a stop-gap until you’re able to see your dentist. 

The contents of a temporary tooth repair kit differ. Some contain wax to cover rough or jagged edges. Others include a substance that can be molded into the shape of a tooth to fill the gap of a broken or missing tooth.

These kits are intended to provide a temporary fix to a chipped or broken tooth if you can’t see a dentist immediately. What they don’t do is address the root of the problem. Without proper dental care from a dentist, such issues as infections or tooth loss can result.

Temporary tooth repair kits are available for purchase in drugstores or online.

Avoiding Dental Emergencies

I highly recommend my patients take care of all possible conditions before the holidays. It never fails, the tooth that previously had a cavity will end up broken with pain and/or infection while it’s the most inconvenient time to have it taken care of. The best way to prevent emergencies during the holidays is maintaining a healthy mouth. This starts with a regular schedule of visits with the primary care dentist as recommended twice a year. During these exams we are able to monitor our patient’s health and tackle any potential conditions early before they turn into emergencies.

Dental Emergency Dentist Near Me

If you find yourself with a dental emergency over the weekend, during a holiday, or during the late hours check out our Find a Dentist Tool to find an emergency dentist near me. They can help repair a chipped or cracked tooth or with your other dental emergencies. You can read patient reviews, peruse staff bios, and schedule an appointment online with a click of your mouse.

Find a Dentist Near Me

Sources:

  • https://www.macombsmiles.com/7-common-holiday-dental-emergencies/
  • https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/abscessed-tooth
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-fix-a-chipped-tooth
  • https://dentisthartfordwi.com/common-dental-emergencies-what-to-do-on-a-holiday-weekend/
  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cracked-tooth-syndrome/detecting-and-treating-a-cracked-tooth
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/craze-lines#:~:text=%20In%20addition%20to%20wear%20and%20tear%2C%20other,5%20injury%20or%20trauma%20to%20teeth%20More%20
  • https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/cracked-tooth-syndrome/what-to-do-if-you-have-a-cracked-molar
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3702691/
  • https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/eugenol

 

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