When your dentist is unavailable in an emergency, these are the things you can do to relieve pain and guard against infection.

How to Handle a Dental Emergency When You Can’t Get to a Dentist

When your dentist is unavailable in an emergency, it’s important that you know how to relieve pain and guard against infection. Kelly Richardson, DDS and Laura Steinmetz, RDH have these recommendations.

What should I do for a severe toothache?

“A severe toothache can be an indication of active infection which can spread to other places in your body, notably the heart or brain,” says Dr. Richardson. When you can’t see a dentist right away, here’s what you can do in the meantime.

Reduce the pain

For a severe toothache, you can use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID)—either ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). NSAID drugs work better for tooth pain than acetaminophen (Tylenol), and are often more effective for this type of pain than prescription opioid pain medications.

You can also use an ice pack for 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off to help reduce the pain.

Get emergency medical help

If no dentist is available and you have a fever, or swelling under your eye, along your cheek, or under your throat along with the toothache, go to an urgent care center or a hospital emergency room, as you may need to start an antibiotic immediately. Afterward, see your dentist as soon as you can for follow-up care.

What if an object gets stuck between my teeth?

Whatever you do, be gentle. Your gums may become irritated and inflamed, causing you more pain, if you are too aggressive.

Remove the object gently

If the object is small enough, try regular flossing and/or brushing, which may help it come out. Small brushes such as a Proxabrush (available in drugstores), designed to fit between your teeth, may also help. If you have a water flosser, you can also use it to help remove an object stuck between your teeth.

What should I do if I lose a filling, or crack or break a tooth?

When the tooth is not causing pain

If the tooth is not painful and does not have sharp edges that are cutting your tongue or cheeks, it is best to leave it alone until you can see your dentist. However, even if the tooth is not painful, it is important to see your dentist as soon as you can, because the longer you wait, the more complex (and more expensive) the treatment required to fix your tooth might be.

When the tooth is causing pain

If the damaged tooth is slightly sensitive or painful, there are temporary filling materials—available in the dental sections of most supermarkets and drugstores—that can be used for a short period of time to cover the broken area.

What should I do if my tooth is knocked out?

“First, stay calm and look around for the tooth. If you can find it, you may be able to help save it if you can keep its root moist,” says Laura Steinmetz.

Pick up the tooth carefully, touching it only on its chewing surface, never by the root, and do one of the following as quickly as you can:

  • Fill a baggie with milk (NEVER tap water) and place the tooth in it, OR
  • Fit the tooth back into your tooth socket and bite down gently to keep it in place, OR
  • Tuck the tooth inside your mouth beside your cheek to keep it moist.

Then go with your tooth to your dentist as quickly as possible—ideally within 30 minutes. Don’t put the tooth in tap water, which can damage the root.

You may not be able to save the tooth if you can’t get to a dentist immediately.

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