Navigating Dental Emergencies: A Guide to What to Do and Not Do

By: Dr. Andrew Koenigsberg

Dental emergencies can strike at any moment, causing pain and panic. Knowing how to handle such situations can make a significant difference in preserving oral health and minimizing discomfort. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through what to do and what not to do when faced with dental emergencies.

What Constitutes an Emergency?

Dental emergencies fall into a few categories.

  1. Swelling: Swelling is usually a sign that there is an active infection, and this should be evaluated and treated ASAP by a dentist. Treatment may be initiating root canal treatment, extraction or as a last resort antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely permanently resolve the underlying and sometimes make diagnosis more difficult.
  2. Pain: There are many kinds and degrees of dental pain. Severe pain may be caused by infection or a fractured tooth and should be evaluated by a dentist ASAP. Moderate pain with no swelling. Transient sensitivity is usually less of an emergency but should be evaluated by a dentist.
  3. Broken teeth or fillings: This is usually something that can wait a couple of days if it happens when traveling or on a weekend. There may be pain if there is a sharp edge that cuts the cheek or tongue. If the tooth involved is a front tooth there may be an aesthetic issue but no health emergency.

What to Do:

  1. Stay Calm: The first and most crucial step is to remain calm. Panicking can escalate the situation and hinder your ability to make rational decisions.
  2. Contact Your Dentist: In the event of a dental emergency, reach out to your dentist as soon as possible. They can provide guidance, assess the severity of the situation, and schedule an emergency appointment if needed.
  3. Manage Pain: If you’re experiencing pain, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (following package instructions) can help alleviate discomfort. However, avoid placing aspirin directly on the affected area, as it may cause irritation.
  4. Handle a Knocked-Out Tooth Properly: If a tooth is knocked out, handle it by the crown (top) and avoid touching the root. Rinse it gently without scrubbing, and try to reinsert it into the socket. If that’s not possible, place it in milk or a tooth preservation solution and seek immediate dental attention.
  5. Control Bleeding: For bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or gauze. Rinse your mouth with a mild saltwater solution to help control bleeding and reduce the risk of infection.
  6. Address Loose Fillings or Crowns: If a crown out, you can use dental cement to temporarily secure it. However, don’t use glue or other adhesives not meant for oral use.

What NOT to Do:

  1. Avoid Using Sharp Objects: Refrain from using sharp objects, such as tweezers or pins, to remove stuck objects or address dental issues. This may cause further damage or injury.
  2. Don’t Ignore Swelling: Swelling is often a sign of infection. Ignoring it can lead to more severe complications. Seek professional dental care promptly.
  3. Say No to DIY Dentistry: While it might be tempting to fix the issue yourself, attempting DIY dental procedures can result in more harm than good. Leave complex treatments to the professionals.
  4. Don’t Ignore a Cracked Tooth: A cracked tooth can expose the sensitive inner layers to bacteria, leading to infection. Avoid delaying treatment if you notice a cracked tooth.
  5. Limit Over-the-Counter Solutions: While temporary pain relief is acceptable, over-reliance on over-the-counter remedies without seeking professional advice can mask underlying issues. Always consult your dentist.

Dental emergencies can be stressful, but knowing how to respond can make a significant impact on the outcome. Remember, timely professional intervention is crucial in ensuring the best possible outcome for your oral health. If in doubt, always contact your dentist for guidance tailored to your specific situation.

If you are having a dental emergency have questions about your dental health, please call our office at 212-246-8700 or drop us a line at

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