Knowing the signs of a dental emergency ensures your family member receives prompt care.

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely perfected the art of handling your family’s injuries, from bumps and scrapes to bloody noses. Even broken bones, while scary, generally have a clear course of action you can follow. Dental problems like toothaches, however, are more difficult since their cause is often invisible. This can make it hard to know when you have a true dental emergency on your hands; even when the cause of your family member’s pain is obvious, such as a broken or knocked-out tooth, knowing how to handle the situation can be difficult and overwhelming. To combat this and ensure your family member gets the best possible care exactly when they need it, we’ve put together a guide to help you know when you should seek emergency dental treatment.

What types of toothaches are there?

Asking your family member to describe their pain and determine whether it’s constant or triggered by certain actions can help you figure out if you have a dental emergency on your hands. Pain can be described as a dull ache, throbbing, or sharp and stabbing. When you ask your family member to describe their pain, always ask them how painful it is—can they forget the pain if they get focused on something else, or does it stop them in their tracks?

What causes different types of toothaches?

Dull, constant aches can be the symptom of a cavity, but if the ache extends across your family member’s jaws, it may be from them grinding their teeth at night. This is easily remedied with a night guard, but it should be addressed by a dentist since it can result in dental emergencies like broken or cracked teeth. Additionally, food stuck at the gumline can cause swollen or irritated gums and a dull toothache, so you may want to suggest that they floss thoroughly and wait a few days to see if their symptoms improve.

On the other hand, sharp, intermittent pains can be the result of a cavity, abscess, or a cracked tooth. Temperature sensitivity also results in sharp pains, but it only occurs when your family member’s teeth come in contact with extreme hot and cold temperatures. It can be a sign of gum recession or gum disease, or their teeth may just be sensitive. Severe throbbing pain can point to a more serious cause, like an infection or abscess. If your family member only experiences pain when they eat, they may have a cavity or a cracked tooth, while pain at the back of a teenager or young adult’s jaws may indicate an impacted wisdom tooth.

How do I know when my family member needs emergency treatment?

Generally, if your child or spouse is in severe pain, they should see Dr. Lang for emergency treatment right away, especially if you notice they have a fever or facial swelling in addition to their toothache; these can be signs of an abscess or infection. Dull, constant aches can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain medications or at-home remedies like clove oil, and tooth sensitivity can be mitigated with specialized toothpaste, but you should still call Dr. Lang to get your family member a non-emergency appointment as soon as you can. This prevents the issue from worsening over time.

Chipped teeth aren’t usually considered an emergency, but broken, cracked, or knocked-out teeth absolutely are. You should immediately call our office to get your child or spouse an emergency appointment. If you’re not sure whether or not you have a dental emergency on your hands, you can call our office and describe their symptoms; we’ll help you determine the severity of their situation and schedule the right kind of appointment for them.

What do I do if my family member knocks out a tooth?

If your child or spouse breaks a tooth, knowing exactly what to do and taking quick action can mean the difference between saving their tooth and replacing it with an implant. Find your family member’s tooth, pick it up by the crown, and rinse it off in water to remove any dirt or debris. Never touch the tooth’s root, scrub the tooth clean, or pick off any pieces of tissue. Once it’s clean and their bleeding has slowed, the best thing you can do is try to gently place the tooth back in its socket, then have your child or spouse stabilize it with a piece of gauze. This increases the chances that Dr. Lang will be able to save the tooth, but time is of the essence; get the tooth back in its socket as soon as possible, ideally within 30 minutes. If you can’t put it back in the socket, store the tooth in cold milk, saliva, or water instead. You should call Dr. Lang and head to our office for emergency treatment immediately.

How should I prepare for a dental emergency?

You can prepare for a dental emergency by researching what to do if someone in your family suffers dental trauma, such as a broken or knocked-out tooth, and filling your first aid kit with the necessary tools. If you’re not sure you can remember what to do in an emergency, write down instructions on an index card and stick it in the first aid kit. You should ensure your kit includes a pain reliever, gauze, a container to hold a tooth or its broken-off pieces, dental wax to cover the jagged edges of broken teeth, and a temporary filling material in case a dental filling falls out. These basic additions to your first aid kit will help ensure you’re prepared for most dental emergencies.

Whether it’s a scraped knee, a toothache, or a dental injury, it’s always heartbreaking to see a family member in pain. When you know how to identify a dental emergency and are able to jump into the correct course of action, however, you ensure your child or spouse gets prompt treatment, endures less pain, and receives the best possible outcome.