How to Know if You’re Having a Dental Emergency

How to Know if You’re Having a Dental Emergency

When your tooth hurts or something doesn’t feel right, it’s not always easy to figure out what you need to do right now and what can wait until the next day. Once you see or taste blood, you might worry even more, whether it’s your own tooth or your child’s.

Not every toothache or sight of blood on your toothbrush is a dental emergency but sometimes it is. When you know the difference, you can make better decisions about getting the dental care you need. Here’s what you need to call an emergency dentist about right away and what can wait a day or two.

Dental Emergencies — Call Immediately

Dental Emergencies -- Call ImmediatelyIf you or a family member experiences any of these situations, call your dentist immediately and get in for an emergency dental appointment.

Abscessed Tooth or Gum: An abscess is an infection that looks a bit like a red, swollen pimple on your gum. Abscesses tend to cause a lot of pain and can lead to an infection that spreads through your body if left untreated. They’re caused by bacteria that gets into the tooth through a cavity, chip, or crack or into the gum in the space between your tooth and gum. An abscess must be treated as soon as possible because the infection can potentially spread to the bone and cause even more serious problems.

Broken Jaw: If you’re in an accident that results in what feels like a broken jaw, go immediately to the emergency room. Do not move your jaw, and if possible, tie a towel, scarf, or necktie around your head to keep your jaw from moving.

Chipped or Broken Tooth: A chipped or broken tooth is usually only an emergency requiring immediate assistance if it’s bleeding. While pain and tooth sensitivity are common, with no blood, you can usually wait until the next day for your dentist appointment. In a dental emergency, hold a damp gauze or cloth to the broken or chipped tooth, applying gentle pressure.

Knocked Out Tooth: When a permanent tooth is knocked out, you only have a small window of time, about 30 minutes or so, to potentially restore the tooth to your gums. Rinse it if it’s dirty but never scrub the tooth. If possible, return it to the socket and hold in place with a cloth or gauze. In cases where that’s not possible, put it in milk or salt water until you can get to the dentist, to keep your tooth from drying out.

Not a Dental Emergency But Make an Appointment

Not a Dental Emergency But Make an AppointmentSome problems don’t rise to the level of a true emergency requiring that you see a dentist in the same day. These things should be looked at as soon as possible but you’ll usually be just fine if your appointment is a day later or after the weekend.

Bleeding Gums: As long as the bleeding only occurs after you brush or floss (and not because of a deep cut or an abscess), you need to make an appointment but shouldn’t panic. Bleeding is a sign of infection along the gum line and must be treated to avoid tooth or bone loss. Call on Monday or in the morning and schedule an appointment to have it looked at.

Crown Fell Out: A crown can fall out of your mouth for multiple reasons: chewy foods, decay under the crown, or not enough tooth left for the crown to attach to. You can try to temporarily get it back in with dental cement or denture adhesive. Never use super glue, though. If this isn’t possible, put your crown in a safe place until you can get in to see the dentist.

Lost Filling: Fillings can fall out for a variety of reasons from bacteria that weakened it to teeth grinding or not taking proper care of your teeth. If your filling comes out, you may feel pain from food, liquids, or even the air touching the tooth. Take a pain reliever if needed. Press a damp cloth or gauze to the tooth if it bleeds, and call your dentist to make an appointment.

Toothache: A toothache can be brought on by a variety of factors including having food stuck between your teeth. Trying brushing and flossing first and take a pain reliever if that doesn’t work and you still feel discomfort. You can also use a cold compress if your gum or mouth is swollen.


Not understanding what’s happening with your teeth and gums can be a little scary. The slightest bit of pain can feel like a big problem. Anything that causes pain, swelling, or bleeding in your mouth should cause concern, but not everything is a dental emergency. Knowing the difference can help you know when to get something looked at immediately and when you can wait a day or two to see the dentist.