What to Do in a Dental Emergency?

Jul 20, 2022 | Emergency Dentistry

What to Do in a Dental Emergency

Dental emergencies happen all the time but, when it happens to you, it can be a painful and scary situation. But what do you do when a dental emergency occurs and what is a true dental emergency?

At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand how frightening a dental emergency can be, but knowing what to do when a specific dental emergency occurs is the best way to deal with your dental emergency. Here we offer a guide that suggests what to do depending on your dental emergency. 

Key Takeaways

  • Dental emergencies: severe toothache, swelling of gums, bleeding gums, loose/knocked-out tooth, jaw injury.
  • Call dentist for advice: ER visit, immediate treatment, or regular appointment.
  • Toothache management: OTC pain relievers, cold compress, numbing solutions, brushing, flossing.
  • Knocked-out tooth: Save tooth, call dentist, clean/reinsert if possible, store in milk/saltwater.
  • Chipped/broken teeth: Large injuries causing pain may need immediate treatment, small chips/cracks can wait.

What is considered a dental emergency?

While any dental concern may feel like an emergency at the time, not every dental injury or toothache requires emergency treatment and can often wait for the next available appointment with your dentist. Some common examples of dental emergencies include:

  • Severe toothache not relieved by OTC pain relievers
  • Painful swelling of the gums
  • Bleeding gums that will not stop or continue to worsen
  • A loose or knock-out permanent tooth
  • An injury to your jaw
  • Swollen cheeks or face accompanied by a toothache
  • Newly developed extreme tooth sensitivity

Non-emergency dental concerns that can often wait until an available appointment can include a lost or broken filling, crown, or bridge, a broken or cracked tooth, food lodged between your teeth, a mild toothache, a small chip in your tooth, or mild, new-onset tooth sensitivity.

What are the causes of dental emergencies?

Dental emergencies can happen for a variety of different reasons. Some can develop slowly and unnoticed, such as an infection or abscess, that causes toothache and swelling quickly. Injuries, such as sports, bike riding, or car accidents, can cause injury to your mouth, jaw, teeth, and gums. These injuries can often cause bone damage, tooth damage, cuts, and injuries to the gums, inner cheeks, or lips that may need immediate treatment. Even eating can cause a dental emergency. Biting down on a hard object can often break or crack a tooth or dental work and cause immediate pain.

How to handle common dental emergencies

No matter what dental emergency you experience, your first step is to call your dentist. If it is after hours, your dentist may have an on-call dentist to discuss your dental concerns with. They can advise you as to whether you need immediate treatment, a trip to the ER, or if you can wait to schedule a regular appointment. Here we look at some common dental emergencies and the often-recommended course of treatment.


A toothache can often be overwhelming and is most often a sign of serious dental concern. However, in most cases, a toothache does not require immediate attention and can wait until you can schedule a regular dental appointment. To manage the pain, you can take OTC pain relievers and apply a cold compress to the area of the pain. In addition, OTC numbing solutions can also help lessen the pain. Regular brushing and flowing can help remove food debris which can often be the cause of dental discomfort. However, if your toothache is not manageable with OTC pain meds or is accompanied by facial swelling, it may be necessary to seek immediate treatment.

Knocked-out tooth

If you have had a permanent tooth knocked out, saving the tooth and reinserting it into place works best when it happens within the first hour after injury. When you knock a tooth out, immediately call your dentist and see what treatment is recommended. If it is after hours, they will likely refer you to an emergency dentist. Find the missing tooth and carefully pick it up by the crown so as not to damage the root. Clean the tooth with plain water. If you are comfortable, try replacing the tooth with the socket. If not possible, place the tooth in a cup of milk or a water solution with a pinch of salt.

Chipped or broken tooth

A chipped or broken tooth can be an emergency depending on the extent of the damage. A small chip or crack that does not cause pain can often wait until your next dental visit. A larger injury that causes pain may mean the root or nerve is exposed and may require immediate treatment.


Bleeding after brushing, flossing, or a dental procedure is often common and not abnormal. However, if the bleeding doesn’t stop or increases it can be a sign of an underlying complication that may need immediate treatment. If you are unable to see the dentist or control the bleeding, an emergency room visit may be necessary in order to manage the bleeding.

Oral wounds

If you had an injury that caused you to bite your tongue, cheek, or lip, you may experience a lot of initial blood. The face is filled with blood vessels, so bleeding facial injuries is common. Placing gauze inside your mouth or on your lip and applying pressure is often enough to stop the bleeding and applying a cold compress to the area can often help reduce the swelling that will follow. However, if you are unable to stop the bleeding, it may be necessary to visit the emergency room to ensure the damage is not deep and requires stitches. It is also important to keep these wounds clean to avoid infection. For wounds inside the mouth, a saltwater rinse can be beneficial.

Lost filling or crown

Losing a crown or filling is common, but not usually considered an emergency. You can typically wait until the next available appointment with your dentist. However, there are some things to do to help prevent additional damage to your teeth. If you can save the filling or crown, put it aside to bring to the dentist. In some cases, the crown may still be in good enough condition to reattach to the tooth. In the meantime, your dentist may suggest using OTC tooth wax or bonding cement to cover the tooth or temporarily reattach the crown until you can be seen.

Tooth abscess

A tooth abscess is an infection around the tooth root or in the gums surrounding the tooth. You may experience a pimple-like spot on your gums that causes pain, swelling, and redness. Infections can spread quickly so it is important to address an abscess as soon as possible. While regular brushing and flossing, as well as a saltwater rinse, can help keep the infection at bay and reduce some swelling, it is important to contact your dentist immediately.

Should you go to the hospital for dental emergencies?

If you are unable to get into an emergency dental appointment, there are some instances where a trip to the emergency room may be necessary. While emergency rooms do not usually have a dentist on-call and are unable to address dental concerns, they can help manage pain and infections. If you have pain that is unmanageable with OTH pain relievers, have to bleed that you are unable to stop, or have an injury to your mouth that includes facial bones, a trip to the ER is often recommended.

When do you contact your dentist?

If you experience any sort of dental emergency, it is important to call your dentist immediately. While your dental concerns may not be an emergency that needs immediate care, your dentist can advise you on what to do and schedule any necessary appointments.

How do you prevent dental injuries?

While it is impossible to avoid all dental injuries or emergencies, there are some things you can do to prevent your risk. These can include:

  • Attend regular dental visits and follow a daily oral hygiene routine in order to reduce the risk of dental decay and infection.
  • Wear a mouthguard during any sports activity or recreational activities, such as bike riding or skating.
  • Do NOT use your teeth to try and open packages or bottles
  • Always wear a seatbelt when driving a car or as a passenger
  • Avoid chewing hard foods or non-food items, such as pens or pencils.

Addressing dental emergencies is easier with New Leaf Rohnert Park

When a dental emergency occurs, it can be frightening and stressful. Knowing what to do can help reduce your stress and ensure your dental concerns are addressed as needed. At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand how scary a dental emergency can be. This is why we offer emergency dental care. When a dental emergency occurs, a simple call to your office can give you the information you need immediately, as well as provide emergency treatment when needed. To learn more about our emergency dental services, contact us today.

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Owner @ New Leaf Rohnert Park

Professional Degrees

University of California at Davis – BS in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Neurology, Physiology, Behaviors

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, Doctorate of Dental Surgery

State University of New York at Buffalo – General Practice Residency at Erie County Medical Center

Front Office Staff On Phone Taking Appointment

Come Join Our Dental Family

Do you have a toothache that just won’t go away? Does seeing a dentist give you anxiety and feel uneasy? Are you looking for a dentist that puts your needs first?

At New Leaf Rohnert Park, our team of dental professionals understands that a trip to the dentist is not on anyone’s top list of things to do. However, we know the importance of quality dental care and what it means to your smile. With high-quality, experienced staff and cutting-edge technology, our team works with you to create an individualized treatment plan that fits your budget and allows you to put your best smile forward.

Schedule an appointment today and let us help you achieve good oral health and a beautiful smile.

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