What Is a Dental Emergency?

You may have noticed that dentist offices across the country are only open right now for “dental emergencies” as a result of COVID-19, but what does that really mean? What symptoms meet the criteria for scheduling an appointment during a pandemic, and what can wait?

Routine procedures like cleanings, x-rays, and whitenings aren’t urgent, and can probably be rescheduled, but symptoms like persistent bleeding and pain cannot. Here are 4 major symptoms that count as dental emergencies, for which you should schedule an appointment.

4. Cracks or Fractures

Cracked and fractured teeth can result from injuries to the face, untreated cavities, or even biting down on hard objects like ice or nuts. Not to be confused with a chipped tooth, this much more painful problem usually occurs in individuals over the age of 40, and requires urgent attention. After scheduling your appointment, wash your mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress to the affected area. Acetaminophen will help with the pain, but do not apply any painkillers directly to your gum, as this could cause further damage.

3. Loose or Missing Teeth

Loose teeth may be a common occurrence among children, but it shouldn’t happen in a healthy adult mouth. Loosen or misaligned teeth are normally caused by injury, and can be quite painful. If this happens, promptly make a dental appointment, try to keep the tooth in place, and avoid chewing and biting in that area.

If a tooth has been knocked out entirely, this is another good reason to schedule an emergency appointment. Your dentist may be able to successfully reinsert it, but you’ll first need to pick up the tooth by the crown and be careful not to touch the roots. Rinse it gently without scrubbing, and either reinsert the tooth into your mouth or place it in a small container of milk. Even if there is little to no pain, the situation requires immediate attention as missing teeth can lead to gum infections and periodontal disease. 

2. Swollen Jaw

Swelling in the face or jaw could signal a serious and possibly life-threatening infection, and can be accompanied by fever, pain, a foul taste in the mouth, or trouble swallowing or breathing. Experiencing any of these symptoms is a good reason to schedule an emergency dental appointment.

Bacterial infections can impact the salivary glands, which can block the production of saliva. Swelling may also indicate an abscessed tooth, which could stem from facial trauma or untreated cavities. Signs of an abscess include severe pain, tender lymph nodes in the neck, and a pus-filled bump on the gums – all of which should be treated as soon as possible.

1. Bleeding

Many patients encounter light bleeding after flossing, and though that does not qualify as an emergency, it might be an early indicator of gingivitis. If the bleeding is excessive or recurring, and if it is accompanied by pain and swelling of the gums, that could suggest an advanced case of periodontal disease. This is a serious condition that warrants a visit to the dentist as soon as possible. 

For more information about what symptoms do and do not qualify as dental emergencies, check out this flyer from the ADA.

If you’re experiencing a dental emergency, call us at (410) 431-1768 immediately.

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