What to do in a dental emergency

You’re on vacation for 5 days and toothache strikes, or you thought you’d be fine through the weekend and Friday night you had a cold drink and it’s all over, you have to be seen NOW! – You’ve either put off your visit to the dentist because of dental anxiety, or lack of insurance… those are the most common reasons. You may have your own…

In my work as a scheduler for the top emergency dentist in San Diego, I’ve had the opportunity to help hundreds of people with painful toothaches handle their emergencies. In the unfortunate event that you have one of those, here are some things you can do to take the suffering out of the dental emergency.

There are generally two types of dental emergencies:
– Toothaches (cavities, cracked teeth, abscesses, infection, etc)
– Accidents (bat to the face, floor meets mouth, etc)

First, lets get the obvious out on the table… the best thing would be to prevent a dental emergency of the toothache kind, by taking care of your teeth and visiting a dentist regularly. Putting off the easy routine appointment often turns into a severe toothache. Stop it!

The toothache type of dental emergency is best handled by an emergency dentist if you’re in San Diego, or by searching for a local emergency dentist in your area.

If you have a toothache there are a few questions that the dentist taking care of you will ask:

– Does it hurt more or less when you drink cold or hot water?
– Does it hurt more or less when you chew?
– Does it hurt when you breathe cold air?
– Does it feel like pressure or is it a stabbing pain?
– And so on…

They do this to determine whether your nerve is affected so they can make more informed treatment recommendations. Treatment options may range from a tooth extraction to a pulpectomy (the beginning stage of a root canal), or may be re-cementing a crown or placing a temporary filling.

If you’ve gone to the emergency room they might be able to prescribe you something for the pain or infection, but the toothache type of emergency is best handled in its entirety by an emergency dentist. ERs are just not set up to take dental x-rays and do thorough mouth examinations.

On the other hand, if you knocked out a tooth riding your friend’s new mechanical bull, or something along those lines, then the emergency room is probably your best bet. Why? Because of the possible trauma caused to other parts of your mouth that aren’t actually teeth. Trauma generally comes with swelling, blood, cuts…

While you can still go to the dentist to get an x-ray and a prescription and make sure there’s no additional damage, in the case of trauma there’s generally nothing that can be done in the moment, by a dentist. Well, except for maybe taking out a tooth that became lose and waiting until the area has healed some to start thinking about an implant, inlay, crown, etc. Those treatments are not usually in the scope of the emergency dental clinic, but more of a cosmetic dentist or specialist’s realm.

Regardless of which type of dental emergency you’re having, here are 3 things you can do to reduce the suffering of this experience:

Tip #1: Find what water temperature feels most comfortable to you and swish around some salt water. This helps relax the muscles and relieves pain.

Although generally a good emergency dentist should be able to see you within 2-3 hours, that’s still a little bit of time and there’s no point in suffering through it… do the salt water swish and it’ll help make the time pass with some relief.

Tip #2: Directly from a hypnodontist (dental anxiety and pain specialist): Watch something funny or do something you enjoy.

People laugh when I tell them that… and then they realize that it helped… I tell them that even if they think it’s a little hokey, the act of laughing releases the same chemicals in the brain that prescription pain killers release. Making laughter the best medicine. So watch a movie, some stand-up comedy, or anything else that can make you laugh. My friend and colleague Dave Berman has written some great content about laughter and pain. < That’s a link to an article that links to other great resources by Dave. Check those out!

Tip #3: Don’t feel embarrassed. You’re not alone.

Have you ever taken a look around a business area to see how many dental offices there are? Let me help you… there are too many to count. Meaning: Each of us has 32 teeth and there are billions of us. You’re not alone in having put off the visit to the dentist, and you’re not alone in having to deal with a dental emergency.

The best thing you can do now, is take a deep breath and realize that soon you’ll be back to feeling great and hopefully, a little more wise now, you’ll be seeing a general dentist to prevent future issues.

In the meantime, if you were feeling embarrassed, just think of how embarrassing it would be next time… when more time has passed… and then just decide to take care of your mouth TODAY. Nobody wants to have a dental emergency. You can start avoiding the next one now!