What Qualifies as Emergency Dental Care?

what qualifies as emergency dental careEmergency Dental Care: When You Need a Dentist Now

It can be difficult to determine if you should seek emergency dental care. What qualifies as an emergency event? Here’s what you need to know.

As an adult, losing a tooth is no longer the magical, tooth-fairy-summoning experience it once was. Losing a tooth in your adult years falls into the emergency dental care category–not so magical at all, and sometimes quite scary. 

So don’t hang around waiting to be paid under the pillow when something goes terribly wrong with the teeth. It’s best to brace yourself and be well-versed in the protocol in case a bad situation should arise.

Do you know when to take emergency dental care measures?

Like any emergency situation, it pays to be prepared when it comes to your teeth–or gums, or any other part of your oral health. And that means knowing when an oral health issue is truly a dental emergency.

There are a number of circumstances that qualify, and varying degrees of seriousness to be aware of, regarding dental emergencies, and since we’re big fans of caring for your teeth, we’ve compiled a list of these serious situations that would require taking immediate emergency action. 

Seek Medical Help Immediately 

First, let’s clarify what we mean by “immediately.” Immediate action means seeking medical attention within 30 minutes or less. So don’t hesitate or second guess when any of these unfortunate situations occur: 

A Tooth Has Been Knocked Out

What this means: The tooth has left the mouth and is no longer bound by connective tissue. Again, this is not in reference to the natural order of losing teeth all through the second grade. This type of tooth-losing is a direct result of trauma or great, unexpected force.  

What to do: Call your dentist and state that there is an emergency dental care situation. If you can, try to preserve the tooth and transport it to the dentist for possible reinsertion. Getting to the dentist quickly is essential in this type of situation.

A Tooth Has Been Moved or Shifted

What this means: A tooth has been forced out of its normal alignment. 

What to do: Call your dentist and alert him or her to the situation. You can gently push the tooth back toward it’s original setting, but if there’s pain involved, you would be better served having a dentist handle it. Plan to schedule a visit in the very near future. 

You Have Chipped, Fractured, or Cracked a Tooth

What this means: Some or part or a tooth has been broken or detached.  

What to do: While some instances of chipping or fracturing may be minor, they have the potential to turn into big problems if the damage is not addressed. Call your dentist immediately and describe the severity of the situation. You can expect to need to make a visit in the very near future. 

The Inside of Your Mouth Has Been Injured

What this means: A laceration, tear, or other trauma have been inflicted on the inside of the mouth, cheeks, lips, tongue, or gums. 

What to do: In the event of an open wound inside the mouth, first clean the area with warm water. Then, apply pressure to the affected area. Call your dentist to discuss what further action should be taken. 

Unexplainable Bleeding or Swelling

What this means: This may indicate an infection or abscess. 

What to do: Call your dentist to schedule an immediate visit. Prior to your office visit, you may want to apply a cold compress to address the swelling and to regain some level of comfort. 

Are You Prepared?

First-Aid kits are generally good to have on hand, but there are some supplies you’ll want to be sure to stock specific to dental emergency preparedness:

Your dentist’s contact information

Know who you would need to contact and how you would go about doing so. If there’s specific off-hours contact information, document that as well. 

A small container with a lid

For any tiny pieces you need to transport (i.e. displaced teeth or tooth fragments). Not a pretty thought, but something you should be ready for. 

Gauze and/or handkerchief

This may come in handy for any messy situations and/or for applying pressure to open wounds inside the mouth. 


You should not rely on aspirin or ibuprofen as these will thin the blood.

What Doesn’t Qualify as “Emergency Dental Care”  

It’s also important to note the types of situations don’t need that emergency dental care.  You’ll not only be better prepared to make a judgement call on actual emergency situations, you’ll also save yourself the undue stress and anxiety of a false alarm. 

On the same note, don’t write-off anything even seemingly minor. Putting off truly necessary dental care can lead to unwanted ER visits down the road. Not all emergency rooms regularly staff dental experts, so knowing who to see and when is important. Tak to your dentist if you have any concerns.

How to Avoid Dental Emergencies 

Some emergency dental care situations are, of course, incidental, but that’s not to say preventative measures can’t be taken. These few simple actions can keep your teeth in tip-top shape: 

Wear a mouthguard when participating in sports or other high-impact activities

Mouth guards have been shown to reduce the risk of sport-related dental injuries. Wearing a mouthguard provides an added layer of protection for your teeth. The occurrence of chipping, fracturing, or losing teeth will be lessened dramatically (stat) 

Take precautionary measures (especially when dental care will not be immediately available)

Regular examinations are important, but if you’re planning to be away from home, especially out of the country, be sure to set up a pre-emptive dental appointment to ensure things are in order before you no longer have access to emergency care. This could end up playing a key role in avoiding issues with loose teeth or infection that may lead to an abscess–not ideal vacation surprises. 

Get regular check-ups

Perhaps the most obvious avoidance tactic is making regular dental care a priority. Seeing your dentist for regular examinations every 6 months will keep your teeth and gums healthy, strong, and protected from infection and decay.

Knowing when and how to act in emergency dental situations could be the difference between losing and saving a tooth. Your oral health is critical to your overall wellbeing, so read up regularly on dental emergency preparedness and always take precautionary measures. 

Don’t wait until you need emergency dental care–schedule your next appointment now.

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