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Toothache and Other Dental Emergencies

You may think you ‘just’ have a toothache, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an emergency. Toothaches can indicate a simple cavity, or they can be a signal that something is seriously wrong inside your tooth. When tooth decay is left untreated and “burrows” deeper into the tooth, it can affect the root system and create serious problems. A cracked tooth can also appear to be simply a toothache, especially since it is often very difficult to see the crack. Waiting to get it looked at by your dentist will not help you … it can only get worse.

If your toothache subsides after rinsing with warm water, brushing and flossing it was likely caused by food particles lodged between the teeth or against the gums. This actually can be very painful, causing your gums to become inflamed and swollen and making it appear to be caused by a tooth ache. Thorough flossing and brushing should dislodge anything caught between the teeth, and your pain should subside, though it could take a few hours for the inflamed gum to get back to normal. Even if your toothache resolves itself after you take a mild analgesic, it is a good idea to have your dentist check it out, in case there is a crack or underlying early tooth decay. It’s not such an emergency, but something to pay attention to, nevertheless. The American Dental Association (ADA) cautions against placing an aspirin or other pain killer in tablet form in your mouth to dissolve directly against the gum. This can actually burn the gum tissue.

Other dental emergencies may be much more obvious. A broken or knocked out tooth or a possibly broken jaw are pretty easy to identify and usually are caused by an accident or injury to the mouth. If you are in an auto accident, sports accident or a fight and you receive a blow to the face or mouth that affects your tooth, call you dentist right away. If it happens at night, your dentist will have emergency procedures to follow if you call the office. Other dental systems operate 24-hour emergency services, and you can call one immediately. If you are in a car accident and wind up in a hospital Emergency Room with other serious injuries, the hospital staff will see that you are treated on an emergent basis.

Here’s a quick check list: Toothache … try rinsing with salt water; brush and floss to help with the pain. If pain does not subside, see your dentist as soon as possible, as it may be a sign of a more serious problem.

Persistent toothache or one that is acutely painful…call your dentist or emergency dental service if it’s at night. Broken or cracked tooth … call your dentist.

Tooth knocked out … get a dental appointment immediately with your regular dentist, or if unavailable, at a dental emergency center. If you suspect a broken jaw … go to the emergency room.

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