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What to do During a Dental Emergency

An emergency, by definition, is not something for which you plan. While your family cannot plan when a dental emergency occurs, you can prepare yourself and your child for one so that you are ready to act. When you know what to do, you can handle the situation more quickly and with more confidence.

What are Common Examples of Dental Emergencies?

A dental emergency is a situation that requires immediate care by a healthcare professional. The most common dental emergencies are from tooth infections or accidents caused by sports injuries or falls. These incidents often affect the face, mouth, and/or jaws. Your child’s dentist should be adequately trained to manage most dental trauma, infections, and pain. However, if your child is experiencing any of these severe symptoms, visit your local emergency room as soon as possible:

  • Swelling in the mouth, face, and/or neck
  • Visible pus draining in the mouth, face and/or neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes near an infected tooth
  • Inability to open and close your mouth normally
  • Trauma to an area of the mouth with bleeding you cannot stop
  • Trauma with a broken or dislodged tooth

After you have ruled out that your child does not need to proceed to an emergency room, you should schedule a visit with your pediatric dentist for an immediate evaluation and plan of necessary treatment.

Mouth Pain

Some children may experience a dull ache or discomfort in their mouths, while others feel the tooth pain is unmanageable. Though most toothaches don’t warrant an emergency visit to your child’s dentist, the best course of action when you hear any complaints of dental pain is to schedule an appointment with your pediatric dentist for an evaluation as soon as you can. It is important to understand that the source of your child’s pain, not the severity, will determine the necessary treatment.

Chipped or Broken Teeth

A heavy blow with a ball, a fall off a bike, or bite into hard candy can chip or break teeth. The severity of the damage determines the type of dental treatment necessary for repair. Some chipped teeth are easily rebuilt with tooth-colored filling material while some broken teeth may require full coverage crowns.

Loosened, Displaced or Knocked Out Teeth

If the surrounding jawbone absorbs the force of an injury rather than the tooth itself, your child’s tooth may become loose or moved from its original position. Knocked out teeth can be re-implanted into the socket if you are able to get your child to the dentist quickly.

Visible Swelling Due to An Infection

Swelling is an important indicator of a dental infection. If you see visible swelling in your child’s mouth, jaw, cheek or neck, seek care from your pediatric dentist.

What Happens When I Visit the Pediatric Dentist for a Dental Emergency?

Many children experience falls that cause lacerations to the lips, tongue and gums (a “busted lip”). Dental trauma in children who still have their primary teeth is typically less complex than that in adults. If a baby tooth is knocked out before its natural time, there are typically no major complications but it’s best to still be evaluated by a dental professional.

You should always seek dental care any time your child is complaining of pain, showing visible swelling, or you are unable to stop the bleeding of a cut in the mouth.

To get an accurate diagnosis of your child’s injury, your pediatric dentist will begin with a clinical evaluation of the tooth or teeth and the surrounding tissues. This process must also include dental imaging or close-up x-rays to determine any damage to the internal tooth structures, root or surrounding bone.

How Can We Prevent Dental Trauma?

It is impossible to prevent every dental emergency. However, you can prevent the trauma associated with sports injuries by investing in a custom-made athletic mouthguard for your child. These professional appliances cover and protect the teeth from blunt force trauma. They also provide a barrier between the teeth and the surrounding soft tissues so cuts or lacerations are far less likely.

Next Steps: Dental Trauma and Emergencies

While you cannot prevent every dental emergency, it’s important to educate your family so everyone will know what to do when one happens. Prepared by saving your child’s dentist’s office and emergency contact numbers in your phone. Then speak with others in your community to make sure they have a plan too! Talk to your family dentist about how you can handle the various emergencies we have discussed in this article. Know who to call and where to go so that you receive the fastest and best care possible!