How to deal with tooth emergencies

Accidents happen’and they can happen to your teeth. Learn how to deal with them to minimize the damage

How to deal with tooth emergencies

Oh, snap! You were trail-running and didn’t see that root’now you’re splayed on the ground. Worse yet, your lip’s bleeding’and so is the spot where one of your front teeth used to sit. Now what?

Hopefully this never happens to you. But chances are, a dental emergency of one type or another will affect you’or your kids’at least once. It could be that knock to the mouth. Or a suddenly painfully throbbing molar. Or a lost retainer.

Which dental issues justify a trip to the emergency dentist, which can wait until your own dentist can fit you in a day or two later, and which can you take a wait-and-see attitude toward? We spoke with dentist Dr. Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association, to get the lowdown on what to do, when.

Dental emergency: Your kid just fell and a bit of her tooth chipped off

What to do: The level of urgency depends on whether your child’s in pain or the chipped tooth is bleeding, says Dr. Swan.

Call your dentist and outline the situation.

‘ If there is pain or bleeding, the dentist will want to see the child as soon as possible.

‘ If the chip is small and your child isn’t in discomfort, an appointment can be made to repair the chipped tooth at your convenience.

Dental emergency: Your child just knocked out his tooth!

What to do: Act quickly, and the tooth may be saved, says Dr. Swan. Get to a dentist immediately.
For an adult tooth:

‘ Try to stay calm so you don’t panic your child.

‘ Rinse the knocked-out tooth in water’but don’t scrub. Hold it by the crown (not roots), and try to gently fit it back into its opening; get your child to hold it in place with his tongue.

‘ If the tooth won’t fit back in, or if there’s a risk that a young child might swallow the tooth, put it into a container of milk for transportation to the dentist’s office.

‘ If the sore is bleeding, rinse with water, place a wad of tissue or gauze into the opening and have your child bite down’the pressure should stop the bleeding.

Get to your dentist immediately. In fact, if it’s too far away, just head to the nearest dentist. ‘If you get help within 10 minutes, there’s a fair chance the tooth will take root again,’ says Dr. Swan.

For a baby tooth:
‘ Consider it gone (for now, until the adult tooth grows in).

‘ Control bleeding as above, and call your dentist to explain what happened and ask how soon they want to see your child.

Dental emergency: You just knocked out a tooth.

What to do: The protocol is the same for kids and grown-ups alike, so see above.

Dental emergency: Your tween just lost her orthodontic retainer’yep, the one she’s supposed to keep in 24-7.

What to do: Call her dentist or orthodontist within one day.

‘A new retainer should be made as soon as conveniently possible so the loss doesn’t interfere with, or compromise, the treatment,’ says Dr. Swan.

Dental emergency: You’re whitening your teeth with a product you got from your dentist. You’re used to discomfort, but man: it really hurts!

What to do: Wait and see, says Dr. Swan.

Try to wait out the discomfort: It’s a common side effect of bleaching. Some people find using sensitive-formula toothpaste helps manage the pain.

‘ If you experience irritated gums, call your dentist. Maybe you’re putting the trays in incorrectly, they weren’t cast properly, or you’re putting too much whitener into the trays.

Dental emergency: Out of the blue, your molar hurts. Badly.

What to do: Try to alleviate the pain, then seek help from your dentist.

‘ ‘Rinse your mouth with warm water,’ advises Dr. Swan. ‘Gently use dental floss to ensure there isn’t food or other debris caught between the teeth.’

‘ Don’t rub aspirin or any other painkiller against the gums: it can burn tissue.

See your dentist, stat. ‘Pain’s a signal that something’s wrong, especially [if it’s]  severe spontaneous pain,’ says Dr. Swan. One possible problem: infection.

Dental emergency: The area around your wisdom tooth hurts, and the gums are inflamed and swollen.

What to do: ‘Pain and swelling are indications that you have a local infection that should be treated as soon as possible,’ says Dr. Swan.

‘ Keep the area as clean as possible; mitigate pain by rinsing with warm salt water.

‘ Call your dentist for a same-day appointment.

Accessing care

Financial difficulty shouldn’t prevent you from accessing emergency dental treatment.

Your city’s public health department can direct you to free clinics geared to children and youth, senior citizens, low-income adults, recent immigrants and refugees.

Provincial social-assistance and family-benefits programs include dental benefits, which will allow you or your children to see a dentist of your choice for little or no cost (although not all services are covered).

University dental schools offer subsidized care, regardless of your income.

Search online with the keywords ‘low income dental’ and your province to see what’s available to you.