What to Do in a Dental Emergency

Dental emergencies have the potential to be serious! You really can't afford to ignore them - prompt care is critical! In fact, failing to get proper treatment quickly can increase your risk of permanent damage, and could result in more expensive treatment in the future.

So how do you determine what is a true dental emergency? And what do you do when you have that dental emergency? We've put together a guide to some of the most common dental emergencies and a summary of what to do when you face these problems.


ACT QUICKLY! The best chance to save the tooth is within the first 20-60 minutes after the accident.

If a permanent adult tooth is knocked out, immediately pick the tooth up by the crown (the whiter part that looks like a tooth). Make sure you don't touch the root (the more yellow, cone shaped part).

Note: If the tooth is dirty, rinse it very quickly with water. Never scrub the tooth or try to remove pieces of gum tissue.

Then place it immediately back into its original place in the socket, despite the bleeding. Keep it in place with a piece of gauze or fabric and close your teeth together to stabilize it.

If you can't get the tooth back in, don't force it. Place the tooth in a container of milk, or in a tooth-saving solution approved by the American Dental Association (ADA), e.g., Hank's Balanced Salt Solution.

Make sure to go to your dental office right away to improve your chances of saving the tooth!


If you suspect your jaw is broken, the ADA recommends that you immediately apply a cold compress to keep the swelling down. In this circumstance, get to your hospital Emergency Department immediately. This will require urgent attention.


A broken, fractured, or cracked tooth can be a serious dental problem. Damage often occurs inside of your tooth, as well as on the outside. Immediately contact your dentist for an emergency appointment.

Save any tooth fragments in cold milk and take them to the dental office. Sometimes they can be reattached. At minimum, it gives your dentist clues about the injury, as well as possible solutions to restore the teeth.

Gently rinse out your mouth with warm water. You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for the pain and apply a cold compress to the area to reduce swelling if the fracture was caused by trauma to the face. 


Clean the area that's bleeding gently with a clean cloth, or swish your mouth with warm salt water. Place a cold compress on the area to minimize swelling. If there's significant bleeding or the bleeding doesn't stop after 10-15 minutes, see your dentist or head to the hospital Emergency Department right away. 

Sometimes stitches may be necessary. You will minimize your risk of infection and improve the outcome by seeking care quickly.


It's completely normal for your child's baby teeth to fall out. In most cases, they won't bleed very much. However, if there is bleeding, simply put a piece of gauze over the area. Have your child bite down on the gauze (or a wet washcloth) for 10-15 minutes.

However, if the baby tooth falls out due to trauma, you do NOT put the baby tooth back in your child's mouth. If there is bleeding and it doesn't stop after 15 minutes of pressure, take your child to the hospital Emergency Department right away. Either way, also contact your dentist immediately.

Often parents do not know if the injured tooth is a baby tooth or adult tooth. That is why contacting your dentist immediately is so important. Taking a photo with your smartphone can also help show your dentist what happened and help determine a course of action.


If you have a mild toothache, it may be caused by a cavity, food stuck inbetween teeth, gum disease, or something separate like a sinus infection. Start by rinsing out your mouth with warm water. Use some floss to remove any debris that may be around your tooth. If there's swelling of your gums, apply a cold compress. If this does not improve the situation, contact your dentist.

A more significant toothache could be the result of a large cavity that has infected the nerve of the tooth, or it may indicate that the tooth has a dental abscess, which needs immediate attention. Call your dentist immediately. You will need an x-ray to evaluate the tooth/teeth and find out the source of the pain. Swelling of the jaw or face, or pus coming out of the gums, are both signs of a serious dental infection.

Note: You should never crush up aspirin or other painkillers and rub them on your teeth. This can actually burn your gums. Instead, make an appointment with your dentist right away. 


Cold sores (herpes labialis) and canker sores (apthous ulcers) are two different things. Cold sores appear as red clusters on the outside of (or corners of) the mouth, while canker sores are generally larger red/white sores that occur inside your mouth (on the inside of your cheeks or lips, or under your tongue).

The herpes simplex virus 1 is what causes cold sores, and the virus never goes away. Cold sore outbreaks may occur frequently or intermittently, and usually go away after 7-10 days, but they are highly contagious and can be spread from person to person or parent to child. Topical antiviral ointments can be used to quicken healing, and may include OTC products (e.g. Abreva), or prescription strength medications (e.g. Valtrex).

No one is quite sure what triggers canker sores, although stress and sunlight exposure are commonly cited precursors, and they're more common in people with dry mouth. In most cases, apthous ulcers need to run their course, and they'll usually go away on their own in a week or two.

Note: Rinsing with salt water twice a day can help speed up healing. OTC products like Colgate's Peroxyl may also help. Avoid products with a high alcohol content (e.g. Listerine), as these tend to cause discomfort and burning of the already-sore area. Topical numbing agents (e.g. Orajel) may temporarily reduce pain. Acetominophen (Tylenol) is best used when sores are really painful.

Dental emergencies can happen at any time, so it's important to be educated on proper protocols. Remember, if you experience an emergency, you can call Imagine Dentistry at any time. We'll make sure you get connected with Dr. Coambs directly, even if it's after hours or on the weekend. We understand that dental emergencies happen at all hours of the day, and we're here to take care of your dental needs whenever an emergency occurs!

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