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Dealing with dental emergencies

Knocking a tooth out, losing a filling, chipping a tooth and other dental emergencies need to be assessed and treated promptly to avoid the risk of permanent damage.

Here are tips on what to do in the event of common dental emergencies:

  • Toothaches. First, thoroughly rinse your mouth with warm water. Use dental floss to remove any lodged food. If your mouth is swollen, apply a cold compress to the outside of your mouth or cheek. Never put aspirin or any other painkiller against the gums near the aching tooth because it may burn the gum tissue. See your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Chipped or broken teeth. Save any pieces. Rinse the mouth using warm water; rinse any broken pieces. If there's bleeding, apply a piece of gauze to the area for about 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth, cheek or lip near the broken or chipped tooth to keep any swelling down and to relieve pain. See your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Knocked-out tooth. Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown (the part that is usually exposed in the mouth), and rinse off the tooth root with water if it's dirty. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments. If possible, try to put the tooth back in place. Make sure it's facing the right way. Never force it into the socket. If it's not possible to reinsert the tooth in the socket, put the tooth in a small container of milk (or cup of water that contains a pinch of table salt, if milk is not available) or a product containing cell growth medium (sometimes available at your child’s school, for example). In all cases, see your dentist as quickly as possible. Knocked-out teeth with the highest chances of being saved are those seen by the dentist and returned to their socket within one hour of being knocked out.
  • Extruded (partially dislodged) tooth. See your dentist right away. Until you reach your dentist's surgery, to relieve pain, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek in the affected area. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever (such as ibuprofen or paracetamol) if needed.
  • Objects caught between teeth. First, try using dental floss to very gently and carefully remove the object. If you can't get the object out, see your dentist. Never use a pin or other sharp object to poke at the stuck object. These instruments can cut your gums or scratch your tooth surface.
  • Lost filling. As a temporary measure, stick a piece of sugarless gum into the cavity ( sugar-filled gum will cause pain) or use an over-the-counter dental cement. See your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Lost crown. If the crown falls off, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible and bring the crown with you. If you can't get to the dentist right away and the tooth is causing pain, use a cotton swab to apply a little clove oil to the sensitive area (clove oil can be purchased at a pharmacy). If possible, slip the crown back over the tooth. Before doing so, coat the inner surface with an over-the-counter dental cement, toothpaste or denture adhesive to help hold the crown in place. Do not use super glue!
  • Broken braces wires. If a wire breaks or sticks out of a bracket or band and is poking your cheek, tongue or gum, try using the rubber end of a pencil to push the wire into a more comfortable position. If you can't reposition the wire, cover the end with dental wax, a small cotton ball or piece of gauze until you can get to your dentist's clinic. Never cut the wire, as you could end up swallowing it or breathing it into your lungs.
  • Loose brackets and bands. Temporarily reattach loose braces with a small piece of dental wax. Alternatively, place the wax over the braces to provide a cushion. See your dentist as soon as possible. If the problem is a loose band, save it and call your dentist for an appointment to have it recemented or replaced (and to have missing spacers replaced).
  • Abscess. Abscesses are infections that occur around the root of a tooth or in the space between the teeth and gums. Abscesses are a serious condition that can damage tissue and surrounding teeth, with the infection possibly spreading to other parts of the body if left untreated.
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