What is a Dental Emergency and What Should I Do?

Wondering what is considered a dental emergency?

And if you have a dental emergency, what should you do?

It’s important to understand what kinds of injuries require emergency dental care and which ones don’t. This will ensure your teeth have the best care without the hassle and expense of an unnecessary visit to the emergency room.

Dental accidents can happen day or night and the lack of information can add to your stress.

But we’re here to help!

Read on to find out whether your oral injury requires immediate treatment or whether you can wait to schedule a regular appointment – so you can save time and stress without losing any teeth.

Table of Contents

Am I Having a Dental Emergency?

We understand how frightening and painful dental emergencies can be.

Sometimes teeth can become fractured. Fillings or crowns can be damaged or fall out. Your mouth might be bleeding profusely or you might be experiencing severe dental pain.

If you’ve experienced some dental pain or trauma, you’re not alone: according to a study from the American Family Physician, 22 percent of people have experienced dental or oral pain in the last six months.

Although you may be experiencing pain, not every dental problem is an emergency.

To determine if your situation qualifies as a dental emergency, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you in excruciating pain?
  • Have you lost a tooth?
  • Are any of your teeth loose?
  • Do you suspect you have an infection (foul odor, swelling in your gums or face)?
  • Is your mouth bleeding (from a cut or other trauma)?
  • Do you have a cracked tooth or large missing piece?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re likely experiencing a dental emergency and should seek treatment immediately to alleviate the pain and save your teeth.

dentist with dental x-rays header

What is Not Considered a Dental Emergency

Sometimes a dental problem can seem like an emergency but isn’t.

For example, a chipped or cracked tooth is only an emergency if the fracture is very painful or has left sharp fragments that are cutting your mouth.

Toothaches can often wait , depending on the cause and level of pain.

But it’s important to know if you’re having an actually dental emergency, as emergency appointments can be hard to make and a lot more expensive than a normal dentist visit.

To help you better understand what might be going on and help you explain the situation to your dentist, let’s go over a few of the most common dental emergencies.

Common Dental Emergencies

Mouth Injury (Cut In Mouth, Bleeding Gums, Bleeding Tongue)

General mouth injuries come in a variety of forms, including cuts on the inside of your mouth, gum bleeding, or tongue bleeding.

More obvious causes include recent oral surgery, biting into something sharp (like a boney steak) or blunt force trauma to your face (common during sporting activities).

Some less obvious causes can be more serious – including gum disease or cancer.

In general, if you notice any bleeding from your mouth, gums, or tongue and the bleeding persists or the pain is severe, you’ll want to seek emergency dental treatment.


Toothaches are usually caused by injury or trauma to the tooth, most commonly as a result of dental decay (or “cavity”).

Cavities usually become painful when they get larger and penetrate deeper into the layers of a tooth.

Tooth decay usually starts in the hard outer layer of the tooth, called enamel. If left untreated, this cavity can grow into deeper layers, the dentin and pulp.

The pulp is the deepest layer of a tooth, filled with blood vessels and nerves. If a cavity gets this deep it can cause toothache pain as it affects the sensitive nerves there of the pulp.

In addition to tooth decay, there are a number of other factors that cause toothaches, including (but not limited to):

  • Recent Dental Work
  • Sinusitis (Sinus Infection)
  • Gum Disease
  • Physical Injury
  • Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

Typically if you’re experiencing dental pain, you’re having “a toothache” – but you might be able to identify a more specific kind of dental problem,  so read on to see if your symptoms match a different emergency below.

Depending on the true cause, you may be able to get treated without any threat of losing your teeth.

Loose Tooth

A loose tooth is just like it sounds – one of your adult teeth is wiggling around in your mouth, either on its own, when you eat, or when you touch it.

Adult teeth should not move like this at all – unlike baby teeth that naturally fall out as children grow, adult teeth are meant to be sturdy and permanent once they’re full developed.

Some common causes of loose teeth include injuries or accidents and gum disease.

If your tooth is loose but stays attached to the blood vessels and nerves in its socket, there’s a good chance your tooth can be saved – but see your dentist as soon as possible to prevent further damage that could cost you the tooth.

little girl crying from tooth pain

Chipped or Cracked Tooth

A chipped, cracked, or fractured tooth is also easy to identify; you’ll notice a piece of your tooth is missing or there are visible (and potentially painful) cracks.

Tooth Chipping and Fracturing can be caused by:

  • Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease)
  • Pregnancy Hormones
  • Osteoporosis (Weak Bones)
  • Dental Trauma

Typically a small crack will need a filling and a large missing piece will need a crown. If the tooth is cracked all the way through or if it breaks apart, you may need full extraction.

Depending on the severity of the crack or fracture and where the tooth is located, this may or may not be an emergency; if you’re in severe pain or a large piece is missing, seek immediate treatment.

Avulsed Tooth (Knocked Out Tooth)

Dental Avulsion is a fancy dental term for when a tooth is knocked out.

Though it’s possible for teeth to fall out suddenly without you noticing any looseness beforehand, the most common cause of an avulsion is trauma to your teeth or jaw.

Dental avulsion is a very real dental emergency and you should seek immediate treatment. If you’re able to properly preserve the tooth and get to help fast (within 20-40 minutes), you may be able to get the tooth reimplanted for a full recovery.

Lost Filling or Dental Crown Fall Out

If you have crowns or fillings, you may have them fall out from time to time, often while eating.

Once out of your mouth, the affected tooth may be very sensitive to temperature and pressure.

Unless you’re in severe pain, you can likely wait to schedule a normal appointment to get the lost filling or crown replaced.

Periodontal Abscess (Gum Abscess)

A periodontal abscess or gum abscess is essentially a gum infection.

You’ll likely notice this when a pocket of pus that develops in your gum line; abscesses typically look like a yellow, red, clear, or white pimple on your gums.

Other gum abscess symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks
  • Jaw pain while chewing
  • A loose tooth
  • Pus discharge
  • A bad taste in the mouth
  • Fever

Depending on the severity and speed of treatment, an abscess could lead to a root canal, extraction, or just a course of antibiotics.

If you’re not in severe pain you may be able to wait to get a gum abscess treated, but the sooner you do the less likely you’ll end up with permanent gum recession.

Dental Abscess (Tooth Abscess)

Just like a periodontal abscess, a dental or tooth abscess is essentially a tooth infection that usually presents in the form of a pocket of pus, this time inside the tooth.

Dental abscess symptoms include:

  • Sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks
  • Jaw pain while chewing
  • Constant toothache pain
  • Lymph node swelling or tenderness
  • Face swelling
  • A loose tooth
  • Pus discharge
  • A bad taste in the mouth
  • Fever

Whereas a gum abscess may not be an emergency, when the infection is located deeper inside the tooth, the danger is much greater; the infection can spread to other parts of your body and turn into a more serious illness or it could kill the tooth pulp and result in tooth loss.

If you suspect you’re experiencing this condition, seek immediate treatment.

What to Do in a Dental Emergency

Depending on your emergency or problem, there are a variety of things you can do at home while you’re waiting for emergency dental care or to avoid needing it.

Regardless of the emergency, it’s highly important to stay calm – not only for your own peace of mind, but because a severe stress reaction can trigger a number of physiological responses that may make your situation worse.

Here are a few general suggestions that can help ease any dental pain or discomfort you may experience:

  • Kill bacteria and alleviate irritation by swishing with hydrogen peroxide.
  • Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a mug of warm water and rinse your mouth with this solution to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Likewise, use a cold compress on your cheeks or jaw.
  • Floss around the specific tooth that’s painful in case you’ve gotten something sharp stuck.

Now let’s go over more specific treatments for the dental emergencies we covered above.

Mouth Injury Treatment

If you’re regularly bleeding on your floss, schedule an appointment with your dentist as you may have gum disease; the sooner the better but unless you’re in severe pain there’s no need for an emergency visit.

If you’re bleeding profusely after a procedure go back to the dentist who performed the surgery (or another oral surgeon) right away – this is not normal. While you’re on the way and waiting, keep your head elevated above the heart to minimize blood loss.

For any tears, puncture wounds, or cuts in your mouth or on your gums and tongue, clean the wound with warm water and peroxide right way. If the bleeding persists, seek emergency treatment.

Bleeding from the tongue specifically can be reduced by pulling your tongue forward and placing pressure on the wound using gauze.

What to do to Remedy Severe Toothache Pain

If you’re experiencing tooth pain, first try taking 3 Advils (600mg total), three times a day for three days to reduce pain and swelling.

If the pain persists or gets worse, schedule an exam with your dentist to identify the root cause.

And if your pain becomes is severe, we recommend you seek immediate emergency treatment, otherwise you can call your dentist and schedule a normal appointment.

Action to Save a Loose Tooth

In most cases, especially when the result of impact trauma (as may happen during sports), a loose tooth is a true dental emergency and you should seek immediate treatment.

While you’re on the way to your emergency dentist or the emergency room, attempt to reposition the loose tooth to its normal alignment using only light pressure – don’t force the tooth.

Then keep it in place with a finger or by lightly biting down on the tooth, take an over the counter pain reliever (not aspirin as it can cause more bleeding), an apply a cold compress to reduce swelling.

Chipped or Cracked Tooth Repair or Emergency

If you have a chipped or cracked tooth that’s not painful, you can wait to schedule a regular appointment in most cases.

Whether it’s painful enough for emergency treatment or not, be sure to describe what’s wrong as best as possible, you could say something like:

  • “One cusp broke off my molar”
  • “Half of my canine fell off”
  • “I think my filling fell out”

While you’re waiting for your cracked tooth treatment, try doing the following:

  • Rinse the tooth fragment and your mouth with warm salt water.
  • Apply gauze to the tooth for ten minutes if it’s bleeding.
  • Place a cold compress on your cheek to minimize swelling.
  • Cover the affected area with an over the counter dental cement if you’ll be waiting a day or more.
  • Apply a topical pain reliever (to the outside of your cheek) and/or take ibuprofen.

How to Care for an Avulsed Tooth

If your tooth falls out seek immediate emergency treatment – it could mean the difference between saving the tooth and needing an implant to replace it.

If you see the tooth fall out, pick it up by the crown, not the root as this may cause further damage.

The crown is the white enamel top of the tooth that you use for biting, the root is the other end normally implanted inside your jaw and gums. The root may have some flesh like material inside it (this is the pulp of the tooth).

For adult teeth, try placing the tooth back in the socket. Look at the tooth on the opposite side of your mouth to make sure you’re placing it back in the correct way.

This might be painful and make you squeamish, but placing the tooth back in its socket is one of the best ways to preserve it until it can be properly reimplanted by your dentist. You can also place the tooth in your cheek, as your natural saliva will preserve the tooth until it can be examined.

Never wash the tooth off with water or other liquids. You may place the tooth in regular milk while transporting it to the dentist. This will preserve the dental fibers that are attached to the root that are required for the tooth to possibly be saved and placed back into the socket. Rinsing the tooth or root surface with anything other than milk will prevent the tooth from being saved.

Dental Treatment for a Lost Filling or Crown

If you lose a filling, as long as the pain isn’t severe, you can wait to schedule a normal appointment with your dentist. While you wait, take pain relievers as needed and fill in the gap with over the counter dental cement.

If a crown has fallen out, the same rule applies regarding pain and waiting for treatment.

If you decided to wait, here are a few steps you can take in the meantime:

  • Take an over the counter pain reliever as needed.
  • Clean the crown and try to reattach it to your tooth with dental cement (do not use a non-dental glue like Super Glue as these can be poisonous or damage your tooth and crown).
  • If your crown is lost, smear dental cement over the top of your tooth to protect it until you can get a crown replacement.

Gum Abscess Emergency

Gum Abscesses can be quite serious and you should seek treatment quickly; if you notice any sudden changes, like severe pain, pus discharge, or a bad taste or foul odor coming from your mouth, seek emergency treatment.

In the meantime, rinse your mouth with warm salt water to reduce pain and draw the pus to the surface.

Do not attempt to pop the abscess and brush and floss as usual if pain levels allow.

How to Treat a Tooth Abscess or Infection

Treat dental abscesses just like gum abscesses – if you notice a problem seek a regular appointment as soon as possible, if there are any sudden changes seek emergency treatment.

And in the meantime, rinse your mouth with warm salt water and take over the counter pain relievers as needed.

Where to Go for a Dental Emergency

If you’re having one of the more severe dental emergencies that we’ve outlined above, here are steps to take:

  1. Immediately call your primary dentist for an emergency appointment (or have someone do this for you if you’re having trouble speaking). Most dentists have an emergency number if something happens outside of regular business hours.
  2. If your regular dentist isn’t available or doesn’t offer emergency services, seek out an emergency dentist in your area. This is preferable to a general emergency room as they’ll have special training and equipment to help you heal fast.
  3. If neither of these options are available, go to your local emergency room. They’ll at least be able to stabilize your condition until you can get to a proper dentist and some facilities may have an oral surgeon who can treat you immediately.

Dental emergencies are never fun, but knowing how to handle them properly can help you recover more quickly and potentially save your teeth!

We hope https://www.aspenhillsmiles.com/ guide helps you better understand what’s happening and get back to health quickly.

If you are having an emergency and are looking for an emergency dentist Rockville MD, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We have time set aside each day in case of emergency appointments.

Aspen Hill Smiles is here for you!


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