Advice for dental problems when you can’t see dentist right away: We answer questions about dealing with dental pain or emergencies from home or when traveling.
The Coronavirus quarantine made us prepare for times when patients are not able to see the dentist. Of course, we want to help if you have health or personal issues that prevent you from making it to the dental office.
Dental emergencies are generally not as critical as other medical emergencies. Thus the most pressing issue may be stopping pain or discomfort until you can see your dentist.
Use this post to decide how to deal with dental problems and emergencies from home—and when you truly need an emergency dental visit.
Should I call dentist with emergency if I can’t go to his office?
We explain below which dental emergencies require you to contact your dentist, even if his office is closed.
If you cannot leave your house or are out of reach of your dentist, she can use technology to help you deal with the problem. She will pull up your dental records and relieve discomfort until you can make a dental appointment.
Or your dentist will use teledentistry to examine your mouth and diagnose your problem.
What to do if my mouth hurts?
If you are experiencing pain, your first step is a self-evaluation. You need to know why your mouth hurts in order to know how to treat the pain.
Stand in front of a mirror in a well lit room. Wash hands well, then use a smaller mirror and your fingers to identify where your mouth hurts. Also look for broken or swollen areas.
- Area of pain. Where is it located? Upper or lower, left or right, front or back? Teeth or gums?
- Isolated to single tooth or generalized pain?
- Tooth broken or dislodged?
Once you know where your pain is coming from, evaluate what type of pain you are feeling. Next, try to figure out the source of your dental pain. Do your teeth hurt when you drink–or when you chew? Or is the pain throbbing in an area of your mouth?
Solutions: Temporary relief from general dental pain
Pain from hot or cold foods
If you get a sharp pain when you drink cold water, you may have dentin exposed. Or you could have nerve pain from a cracked tooth.
Solution: To ease the discomfort, apply a small dab of sensitivity toothpaste to the area. Avoid hot and cold foods until the pain subsides.
Pressure or pain when chewing
Pain at a specific point when chewing generally indicates an infected tooth or a bite that is out of adjustment.
Solution: Take anti-inflammatory pain medication such as ibuprofen to temporarily relieve the discomfort. Keep the medications in your system at a constant rate until you are able to see the dentist. Do not take the medication more than 4 days.
If you experience throbbing in a section of your mouth, you may have muscle soreness, sinusitis, or an infected tooth.
Generalized soreness or sensitivity of the upper back teeth may indicate sinusitis.
Solution: In this case, an antihistamine or other sinus medication may help. The pain will ease when the medication clears the sinus and infection heals.
Muscle tension or soreness:
Muscle soreness may be due to tension or an unbalanced bite or over stretching of the jaw muscles.
Solution: Ease muscle tension
- Place ice pack on sore muscles.
- Avoid opening mouth wide.
- Change to soft diet and avoid chewing gum.
- Take Ibuprofen (400 mg. 4 times per day) to relieve pain.
What if I have a toothache?
If you have severe pain on an isolated tooth or swelling, you may have an infected tooth. Take pain relievers and arrange a dental appointment.
The main causes of isolated tooth pain are:
- Cracked tooth or broken filling
- Irritated or infected nerve of tooth
If you have extreme pain, you will have to get a dentist to diagnose and treat for long term relief.
Solution: Temporary toothache relief
Keep the area as clean as possible with brushing and flossing.
If pain is severe, ibuprofen( Advil) and acetominophen (Tylenol) are the medications of choice.
Use this drug combination for best toothache relief:
- 400 milligrams of ibuprofen every 6 hours and 500 mg of acetaminophen two times per day.
- Use acetaminophen every other time you take ibuprofen.
- Do not take these if you have allergies or sensitivities to either.
- Do not take more than 3 days.
How to deal with sensitive teeth?
The dental issues that lead to sensitive teeth vary. Thus we offer varying solutions to lessen sensitivity depending on the source of the sensitivity.
Receding gums may lead to exposed root surfaces. If you suspect that your gums have changed or if your dentist has expressed concern with gum disease at past visits this may be causing your sensitivity.
Solution: Sensitivity from gum problems
Sensitivity toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate and fluoride. Apply the toothpaste with a soft brush directly on the tooth surface near the gums several times daily to provide relief.
Clinching or Grinding Teeth
Clinching or grinding the teeth can also cause a generalized sensitivity. An indicator is teeth that are worn on the edges. In addition, your pain may radiate from the back of your jaw.
Solution: Sensitivity from Grinding Teeth
Treat by maintaining a soft diet and taking Ibuprofen. Wear a night guard (brux guard) to avoid damaging your teeth and to help with sensitivity.
What if I chipped my tooth?
If you chip your back tooth and you are not having pain, keep it clean and schedule to see your dentist. Typically, waiting to see the dentist will not cause further damage to teeth or gums.
If a sharp edge on the tooth is cutting into your tongue or cheek, use a softened piece of wax to temporarily cover the sharp area. Do not chew on that tooth. And do not attempt to fix the tooth yourself.
Your dentist can smooth the area if you have time for a quick visit. Later she can place a filling or crown depending on the severity of the fracture.
If you have a large chip on your front tooth or have pain, call for an appointment to see your dentist as soon as you can.
What do I do if my bridge or crown comes off?
Crowns and bridges are cemented to teeth to replace a missing tooth or teeth. Occasionally over time the cement will fail and the crown or bridge will slip off. Though bothersome, this will usually not damage the crown or the tooth.
Solution: Temporarily replace crown
- Brush thoroughly to clean the crown or bridge and the tooth.
- Place a small amount of Vaseline or denture adhesive in the crown.
- Then place crown back on the tooth with firm pressure.
- Next, bite down gently to seat the crown to place.
- If possible, do not chew on that side.
- Keep the area clean with floss and gentle brushing.
- Repeat the application if the crown comes off again.
- Call as soon as possible to schedule appointment for dentist to re-cement crown.
If you leave the crown or bridge off of the teeth for too long, the teeth may shift and the crown or bridge will no longer fit correctly.
What if I knock my front tooth out in an accident?
You should move quickly if you or your child lose a tooth due to a sports injury or accident. Here is a situation where seeing a dentist may be critical to saving this tooth.
Adults should seek immediate dental care as soon as possible after finding the tooth. But for a child under age 7, know that the front teeth are primary teeth and cannot be replanted if they are knocked out.
Solution: Tooth is completely knocked out in one piece
- Pick the tooth up by the crown (the part that you see when you smile).
- Do not touch the root of the tooth.
- Rinse dirt off under running water and immediately place in a container with enough milk to completely cover tooth.
- If you do not have access to milk, place tooth on wet paper towel or cloth and wrap gently to keep moist.
- To control bleeding where tooth was dislodged, place gauze or folded wet cloth and bite firmly until you can see dentist.
- Take the tooth to a dentist within an hour if at all possible.
- Dentist can often place the tooth back in the mouth if seen within an hour.
What if my tooth is knocked loose but still in my mouth?
Your dentist may be able to save this tooth. Therefore, call your dentist as soon as possible. He will direct you by phone or in his office.
Take steps to save your tooth while waiting to see the dentist, even if you have not yet reached him by phone.
Solution: Tooth is displaced but still in the mouth
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. Then use your fingers (with gentle but firm pressure) to try to move the tooth into its original alignment.
What if my face swells up?
Call your dentist right away if your face swells up. This may indicate a serious infection in an infected tooth, bone, or gums.
Do not try to medicate yourself from home. Rather drink fluids and stay active until your dentist addresses the issue.
What if my mouth is bleeding?
Healthy teeth and gums will not bleed.
If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, get a dental appointment as soon as possible. Ask your dentist to evaluate your gums to see if you have any level of gum disease. Begin a program to deal with this serious issue.
If you had a recent extraction or any type of mouth surgery, call the dentist or oral surgeon right away if bleeding does not stop with pressing gauze to the bleeding area.
Should I visit the emergency room for dental problems?
You should avoid visiting the emergency room for the dental emergencies discussed in this post. The ER physicians do not have training in fixing teeth. Rather they will give refer you to your dentist to solve your problem.
However, if you suffered trauma to your face or broke your jaw, go to the emergency room for an evaluation if you can’t reach your physician.
Establish relationship with local Dentist for future dental emergencies
Dental emergencies happen. And problems often occur when you are out of town or unable to visit the dentist. Thus you need a dentist you can call on to help.
Contact our office or call 803-324-7670 if you want to establish a relationship with a local dentist in Rock Hill, SC. We value our long time patients and their families and would love to welcome you to our office.
I am grateful for a great staff who helps evaluate emergencies, even on week-ends. Many thanks to Judy Murray, RDH, who used her many years of dental experience to help write this post. I know you will find it useful if you have a dental problem while waiting to see your dentist.Dr. Bill Cranford, Rock Hill, SC
It is important to have a relationship with a dentist who knows you and can look at your dental records and guide you to a solution that will protect your teeth and gums. This is especially true if you have an emergency while away from home.
At Cranford Dental we appreciate that modern technology allows us to help patients even when they cannot come to the office.