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What You Should Know About Emergency Dental Care
No one wants to deal with a dental emergency, but stuff happens. Ignoring a problem or waiting too long can lead to extensive, and expensive dental work. Knowing what to do in a dental emergency can prevent complications and possibly save a tooth.
What is a Dental Emergency?
What constitutes a dental emergency? Is a toothache or a chipped tooth an emergency? Not exactly. There are urgent issues and emergencies. It’s important to understand the difference. If you call your dentist at 3 a.m. for a lost filling, he may not see it as an emergency. But you also don’t want to wait and until becomes a serious dental problem.
Conditions you should contact your dentist about immediately include an abscess or severe infection in the mouth, a jaw injury, and if a tooth is knocked out.
To distinguish between an urgent problem and an emergency, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you have severe pain?
- Is a tooth knocked out of alignment?
- Did you lose a tooth?
- Do you have a puncture wound or laceration to the mouth or tongue?
How to Handle a Dental Emergency
You might be prepared to deal with other types of emergencies. After all, you know CPR and are pretty sure how to handle a fire extinguisher. But you might be a little unsure of what to do in a dental emergency.
As with all emergencies try to stay calm. That might be a little easier said than done when your teenager hands you a few teeth he just knocked out skateboarding. But staying level headed will help you figure out what to do next.
If you or a family member is experiencing a dental emergency, contact your dentist right away. Most dental practices have an after-hours number to call in the case of a dental emergency. If you can’t get in touch with your dentist, head to the emergency room for serious dental emergencies.
There’s also a few additional things to keep in mind. The American Dental Association recommends the following:
Knocked Out Tooth: If you or a family member loses a tooth, retrieve the tooth and rinse it off if it’s dirty. Leave any tissue fragments in place. If possible, place the tooth back in the socket. If you cannot put the tooth back in, place it in a cup of water or milk with a pinch of salt. Contact your dentist immediately. The best chance to save the tooth is if you get to your dentist within an hour.
Abscess: An abscess is a serious infection that can lead to complications including an infection in the bloodstream. Symptoms of a dental abscess include severe pain in a tooth, which may radiate to the neck or jawbone. Additional symptoms may include fever, sensitivity when biting and swollen lymph nodes. If you think you have a tooth abscess and can’t get in to see a dentist, call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
Broken Tooth: If you sustain a broken tooth, contact your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, use warm water to clean the area and apply a cold compress to limit swelling and discomfort.
Tissue Injury: If you sustain a tissue injury to the tongue, cheeks or lips, clean the area with warm water. Use a clean piece of gauze to put pressure on the wound to control bleeding. Get to the emergency room as soon as possible
Preventing Dental Emergencies
You may not be able to prevent all dental problems. But there are things you can do to decrease your chance of a dental emergency:
Wear a mouth guard: To prevent injuries to the mouth, wear a sports mouth guard when engaging in contact sports, such as wrestling, football and hockey.
Get routine checkups: Routine checkups are essential to catching problems early before they become more serious issues.
Don’t use your teeth to open something: We have all been there. You’re having trouble opening a bottle or bag, so you use your teeth. Using your teeth as a tool is a bad idea and can lead to a broken tooth.
Avoid chewing on pencils and ice: If you like to chomp on ice or chew on the end of a pencil, you increase your chances of breaking a tooth.
Dental Care on Vacation and Abroad
Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a dental emergency. To decrease your chances of having a dental problem while you’re away from home, make sure you take care of dental problems before you go. Don’t put off issues that can become worse while you’re out of town.
If possible, consider holding off on taking an extended vacation if you’re in the middle of major dental work. Although it may not always be possible, waiting until dental work is completed may be your best bet to avoid any unexpected problems from developing.
Along with packing your suntan oil and swimsuit, make sure you bring the name and number of your dentist, along with your health and dental insurance card. Being prepared in case of an emergency will ease your stress and help things go smoother.
For those traveling within the United States and having an emergency, call your dentist and explain the issue. Your dentist may advise you to go to either the emergency room or contact a dentist in the area.
If you’re traveling internationally and don’t speak the language, it can be stressful to deal with dental problems. Rest assured, competent dental care is available in many parts of the world. In fact, in many European countries, dental training is like training in the United Stated. If you’re traveling abroad, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers can refer you to a dentist.
If you’re off on a remote island or trekking through the rainforest, it may be a bit more difficult to get immediate care. If you have trouble finding a dentist, you can contact an American Embassy or American Consulate in the country your vacationing. A hotel concierge may also be a good resource to help you locate a dentist in an emergency.