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What to do in a dental emergency

Many people are hesitant to call or visit their dentist, even if they are in pain. They might be afraid, or they might not be sure if the problem is a true emergency. Both reasons are understandable, but if you are in any pain, don't delay in calling your dentist. His or her goal is to ease your pain. Know that even if the treatment hurts, it's nothing compared to what you could face down the road if you ignore the problem. Here is a guide to how soon you should call your dentist when emergencies arise, and what you should and shouldn't do in the meantime.

Tips for handling common dental emergencies




Professional care


•  Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

•  Apply ice to the area.

•  Rinse your mouth with warm water.

•  Remove food particles between teeth with dental floss.

•  Use heat.

•  Place an aspirin or other pain reliever directly on the tooth or gum.

•  Eat very hot, cold, sweet, or spicy foods.

•  Call your dentist for advice.

•  Have the tooth examined as soon as possible.

Broken tooth

•  Gather the broken pieces and rinse your mouth with warm water.

•  Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if you have discomfort.

•  Place dental wax or chewing gum over sharp edges of the tooth to prevent damage to mouth tissue.

•  Eat hard foods.

•  Call your dentist imme­diately for breaks that involve the dentin or pulp (the inner layers of your tooth, under the enamel) .

•  Call your dentist as soon as possible for crown or enamel-only fractures.

Knocked- out tooth

•  Pick up tooth by the crown, not the root.

•  Rinse off blood or dirt with milk, or cold running water if milk isn't available.

•  Reinsert the tooth into the socket if possible and hold it in place by pressing gently with your finger or by biting a clean cloth. If reinsertion isn't possible, place the tooth in a container of milk. Or, as a last resort, wrap it in a damp cloth.

•  Touch or scrub the root.

•  Get to the dentist immediately. Teeth that are replanted in the mouth within 30 minutes of the injury have the best chances for survival.

Broken or lost filling or crown

•  Save the filling or crown and bring it to your dentist.

•  Apply dental wax to any sharp edges of the tooth to protect mouth tissues.

•  Use denture adhesive to temporarily reattach a crown until you get to the dentist.

•  Try to replace the filling yourself if it does not go into place easily.

•  Eat very hot or cold foods.

•  Make an appointment as soon as possible.

Bleeding gums

•  Rinse your mouth with warm salt water.

•  Brush and floss regularly.

•  Use a tip stimulator (a cone-shaped rubber nub, found on a toothbrush or a handle of its own, that is useful for massaging gums).

•  Stop brushing regularly.

•  Make an appointment for a professional cleaning and exam.

Bleeding from cuts in the mouth or after a tooth extraction

•  Use clean gauze to apply pressure to the area for five minutes.

•  If bleeding continues, press a moistened tea bag against the cut for five minutes.

•  Rinse your mouth.

•  Call your dentist if you are unable to stop the bleeding with direct pressure.

•  Go to the emergency room if you can't reach your dentist and bleeding is significant.

Mouth sores

•  Rinse with warm salt water.

•  Apply a piece of ice or a paste made from baking soda and water to the sore for a few minutes.

•  Use over-the-counter anesthetics (Orajel, etc.) for temporary relief.

•  Put aspirin on the sore.

•  Use steroid creams.

•  Use hot packs.



•  If the problem doesn't clear up in a week, see your dentist, as this may be a sign of a more serious problem.

Broken dental appliances


(bridges, dentures, and implants)

•  Save all the pieces and bring them to your dentist.

•  Cover protrusions with dental wax to prevent irritation to mouth tissues.

•  Remove the denture until you can get to the dentist.

•  Try to glue pieces back together yourself.

•  Try to bend the wire clasps of a partial denture back into place.

•  Wrap pieces in tissue, which can be thrown away by mistake.

•  See your dentist as soon as possible.

October 2003 Update

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