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What to do in a dental emergency

A dental emergency can be anything from spontaneous pain in the head and neck region (tooth related or not) to a knocked out tooth.

Emergency dentistry is just as important as any other approach to dentistry and you will need a qualified and registered dentist to cater to your needs. We all know very well that pain and discomfort in the mouth, if not quickly treated, can escalate in hours and cause irreparable damage. That’s why it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible in an dental emergency.

Dentists refer to a knocked-out tooth as an “avulsed” tooth. An avulsed tooth is a tooth that has been displaced from the dental socket or the alveolar bone due to impact. If a tooth has been knocked out, the nerves, blood vessels and supporting tissues are damaged too. The nerves and blood vessels can’t be repaired, which is why all avulsed teeth must undergo root canal treatment. The root of the tooth can reattach to the bone if the tooth is re-implanted within a short time after the incident.

The chances of saving a tooth are higher in children, but adult teeth can be saved as well. Only permanent teeth should be re-implanted into the alveolar socket.

If the tooth is intact, it is always a good idea to try to save it before you see the dentist.

Steps you should take to help save your (or your child’s) tooth:

  • Handle the tooth only by the upper part (the crown). Try not to touch the lower part of the tooth (the root) as this can be damaged easily. This is the part of the tooth that attaches to the alveolar bone beneath the gum.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it with milk, holding it by the crown. If you don’t have any milk, rinse it with water. Don’t wipe the tooth as this could cause damage, preventing it from reattaching.
  • Once the tooth is clean, keep it moist by dropping it into a glass of milk; or place it in the mouth, between the cheek and gum. (A young child may not be able to safely “store” the tooth in their mouth without swallowing it. Instead, have the child spit into a cup and place the tooth in the cup with the saliva.) If neither milk nor saliva is available, place the tooth in a cup of water. The most important thing is to keep the tooth moist and try not to touch the root.
  • Try slipping the tooth back into its socket, making sure the tooth is facing the right way. In most instances it will slip right in. If it doesn’t go back into place easily and without pressure, then just keep it moist (in milk, saliva or water).
  • Get to the dentist as quickly as possible after the tooth has been stored.

It is also a dental emergency if you experience any of the following:

  • Facial or localised gum swelling
  • Pain or sensitivity a tooth or teeth, which may refer pain to the head and neck region
  • Chipped, cracked or broken tooth/teeth
  • Toothache or pain around the jaw area
  • Temporomandibular joint pain/ache
  • Emergency cosmetic dentistry such as a broken front tooth
  • Infected or impacted wisdom teeth
  • Your child complaining of a toothache or broken tooth/teeth.

In each of these cases, you are advised to seek emergency dentistry without delay.

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