What to Do for Dental Emergencies

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Tooth ache

Health emergencies don't affect just your heart, lungs or limbs. They can stem from your teeth and mouth, too. Here are some common dental emergencies, along with tips on how to handle them.


Toothaches often result from dental decay. Bacteria eat away at the enamel that forms the hard surface of your teeth. The decay can spread into the pulp, which is the soft tissue inside your teeth, and irritate the nerve in your tooth. You may have aching pain that gets worse when you expose your tooth to hot or cold. As the infection gets worse, you may have severe and constant pain. Infection can also spread to the tissues of your mouth and cause dangerous swelling.

Don't hesitate to call your dentist for an emergency visit if you have dental pain. In the meantime:

  • Avoid very hot or very cold food and drink.

  • Gently floss to remove any particles stuck in your teeth or gums.

  • Rinse your mouth with warm water.

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

Dental Abscess

An abscess is a collection of pus caused by an infection. In the mouth, an abscess usually develops from tooth decay that spreads to the pulp. It causes swelling around the tooth or the gum. You also might have a fever, pain, and swollen glands in your neck. An abscess also can spread to the deep tissues of your mouth or neck and cause swelling. This can make it hard to breathe or swallow.

Here's what to do if you think you have an abscess:

  • If you have dental pain, mouth swelling, or fever, call your dentist for a dental emergency appointment.

  • If you have swelling in your neck or mouth that causes difficulty breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room right away. If you are struggling to breathe, call 9-1-1.

Loss of a Tooth

Having a tooth knocked out is a dental emergency. The tooth root will start to die if the tooth is not replaced soon. Here's what to do:

  • Find the tooth if you can.

  • Rinse your mouth with cool water.

  • Rinse the tooth off with cold water, but avoid touching or rubbing the root.

  • If possible, place the tooth back in its socket.

  • If you cannot get the tooth back in, put it in your mouth to keep it moist. Or, put the tooth in a cup of milk.

  • You also could put the tooth in a special tooth carrier. These containers are in some home emergency kits. Don't take the time to go buy one in an emergency, but use it if you already have it.

  • Call your dentist right away to schedule an emergency visit.

The rules are different for babies. If your child has a baby tooth knocked out, don't try to put it back in. Baby teeth are usually left out. However, do save the tooth and keep it moist if you can find it. Your child’s dentist will want to see the tooth if possible. Call your child’s dentist for an emergency appointment.

Other Dental Traumas

Losing a tooth isn’t the only form of dental trauma. Here are actions to take for other common trauma situations:

  • For a chipped tooth that is not painful: Call your dentist to find out how soon you need a visit.

  • For a broken tooth that is painful: Call your dentist for an emergency visit. Rinse your mouth with warm water. If there's a large piece of tooth you can find, keep it moist and bring it with you to the dentist. Put a cold compress over your mouth or gum to reduce swelling.

  • For a tooth that's loose or pressed into your gum: Rinse your mouth, use a cold compress, and call your dentist.

  • For trauma that causes your cheek, tongue or lip to bleed: Rinse your mouth with cool water. These areas may bleed briskly because they have a very good blood supply. Try to stop the bleeding with pressure from a cold compress. If you cannot stop the bleeding, go to the emergency room.

Preventing Dental Emergencies

You can prevent many dental emergencies. Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent infections and toothaches from bacteria and decay. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristle brush. Use an antimicrobial toothpaste and floss once a day. Consider rinsing with an antimicrobial mouthwash. Also, avoid added sugar in your diet. Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause dental decay and infection.

To prevent dental trauma when playing contact sports, use a mouth guard or a face shield.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Common Dental Emergencies. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0201/p511.html 

  2. Daily Tips for Oral Hygiene. Academy of General Dentistry. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=D&iid=184&aid=3806

  3. Dental Emergencies. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/dental-care-concerns/dental-emergencies

  4. Dental Emergency. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dental-emergencies