There are a variety of dental emergencies that can occur regardless of your age or activity level (you don’t have to be a contact athlete to knock out a tooth!). The following list describes common dental emergencies (as detailed by The Canadian Dental Association) in descending order of consequence, and includes helpful tips on what to do if you find yourself in such positions.

  1. When a tooth gets knocked out (dislodged): This injury requires immediate action. It is possible for a dislodged tooth to re-root and survive if it is replaced shortly after coming out. The best results occur if replaced within 10 minutes. Less than half an hour, and the odds are still in your favour. If you wait 2 or more hours after the tooth falling out to replace it, then the likelihood that it will re-root is low. Before you pick your tooth off a dirty soccer pitch and shove it back into place, you’ll need to clean it. Make sure not to damage any of the root by grabbing it by the crown. Avoid wiping it with a cloth or tissue for this same reason. To clean the tooth, you’ll want to rinse the tooth well with clean water. If you have difficulty replacing the tooth, then find yourself a cup of cold milk and store the tooth in there while you make your way to your dentist office. Outside of the hole from which it fell, a cup of milk is the second-best way to preserve the vitality of the tooth. In all cases with a dislodged tooth, seek immediate dental care.
  2. When you break or crack a tooth: the severity of consequence here depends very much on the degree of damage to the tooth and root area. Small chips and breaks can often be filled with white filling (same as is used to fill cavities) in order to repair the tooth. A crown may be needed for more serious damage to the surface of the tooth. Damage that extends to the root may require a root canal. Be sure to call your dentist and explain what happened when you break, chip, or crack a tooth. They will want to see you shortly thereafter in order to make the necessary repairs.
  3. When you lose a filling: your dentist should be able to replace a lost filling with ease. To protect the portion of tooth that is now exposed, you can stick a small piece of chewing gum in the affected area. Remember, though, that sugar is a cavity culprit, so do yourself a favour and opt for a sugar-free variety.
  4. When you have a severe toothache: treat the pain with a combination of over the counter pain medication that you know is safe and effective for your body, and cold. Try holding a cold pack to the side of the mouth that hurts, as the cold temperature will help to take down any swelling. Do not try alternating cold with hot, as heat will not help bring down any inflammation and may exacerbate the pain. Schedule an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible.
  5. When you have a badly bitten lip or tongue: try and stop the bleeding yourself by applying pressure with a clean cloth. If bleeding cannot be stopped, then you may need stitches. Go to your local emergency department at the hospital for immediate attention.
  6. When you have something stubborn stuck between your teeth: If you simply cannot get the item out by flossing gently, then you may need help from your dentist. Avoid poking at your teeth and gums with shard objects, as these can cause more damage then help.

Unfortunately, dental emergencies are not reserved for when you are close to home. Next week we will offer suggestions on what to do if you find yourself with a dental emergency while traveling abroad.

How to respond to dental emergencies

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