Do You Need to Make an Emergency Dental Appointment? Here's How to Tell
There tend to be two types of patients: those who panic when they feel the slightest discomfort and those who ignore a possible infection for days. However, being able to tell when you need urgent dental treatment can help you determine when you should call your dentist after hours and when you can wait a day or two. Making the right decision affects whether you will be able to save a tooth or if you will need extensive and expensive dental work.
Non-urgent Dental Conditions
There are some situations which require a dentist’s visit within two days at most. This means you can generally wait until your dentist’s regular office hours. Even if they have to rearrange some of their routine check-ups or cleanings, they will see you. For example, if your filling falls out on Saturday night, you can likely wait until Monday to see your oral care practitioner.
Other non-urgent conditions are:
Lost crowns or bridges
Small chips or cracks in a tooth
Mild, dull toothaches
Food firmly stuck between teeth
In these situations, it is unlikely that the tooth will have to be extracted. You should still see a dentist as soon as possible but you should be fine waiting until regular hours. A toothache which develops gradually is likely a sign of cavity and while it isn’t an emergency it will worsen over time. Similarly, a lost filling may not be painful initially but the tooth could start to break off without prompt treatment. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner your discomfort will be relieved and you can stave off permanent damage.
Emergency Dental Conditions
There are many reasons why you may need an emergency dental appointment. In some cases, there is visible damage to the teeth. In others, there is a lot of pain which indicates tooth decay or an abscess. As a general rule, if you are in severe pain that isn’t helped by painkillers or your tooth gets knocked out, you need urgent treatment.
Other urgent cases are:
Large cracks or chips in teeth
Lacerations to the lips, tongue or cheek in an accident or violent incident
Prolonged bleeding or swelling after an extraction, implant, filling or root canal
If the problem occurs during office hours, call or visit your dentist and they will likely rearrange their schedule to see you as soon as possible. If it’s late at night or early in the morning, you may need to go to the emergency room depending on your condition. Otherwise, call your dentist’s number and follow the instructions on the answering machine. There is likely to be information about what to do in case of an emergency.
The sooner you get seen, the more likely the chance of a positive outcome. For example, if your tooth has been dislodged, the dentist may be able to re-implant it if you get to the office in time. You can improve the chances of saving the tooth but gently placing it back in the socket. If you can’t, place it in a glass of milk until you get to the dentist.
What to Do at Home Until You Can See the Dentist
If your tooth is hurting, you will want to take steps the relieve the pain. Whether you’re seeing the dentist in a couple hours or a couple days, regular painkillers should be able to help you. Opt for paracetamol instead of ibuprofen or aspirin since these can thin your blood. If you are bleeding, these drugs can the situation worse.
You can also try some simple, natural remedies to bring relief. Mix some warm salt water and rinse or gargle with it to help draw fluids out of your gums. Rubbing lemon or lime onto painful areas can also help to reduce irritation as can chewing fresh ginger or applying a paste of garlic and salt. These are just temporary measures until you can get proper treatment from the dentist. They are not an alternative.
How to Avoid Dental Emergencies
It may be cliché to say prevention is better than cure but in this case, it’s accurate. It is important to get regular dental check-ups so potential problems are identified in the early. They can then be treated before they begin to present symptoms. You also shouldn’t ignore minor toothaches or discomfort. They mean something is wrong and you should discuss it with your dentist during your routine visit. If there’s really nothing to worry about, your dentist will confirm it.
Oral health isn’t to be taken for granted. However, not every pain or feeling of discomfort requires urgent attention. If you’re in severe pain or bleeding excessively, you need to seek emergency care. Most other cases need to be seen as soon as possible during regular office hours. If you’re unsure what to do, contact a dentist or doctor for advice about the next steps.
Dr. Chris Campus is a dentist at Sorrento Dental Care. He loves sharing his knowledge with his patients so they can make better decisions about their oral health.