Learning how to keep your cool and handle different dental emergencies.

Between your kids’ clumsy moments and their enthusiastic play, you’re likely very familiar with the routine of putting a kiss or a Band-Aid on minor scrapes and cuts. While we all do our best to keep an eye on our kids and ensure that they’re playing safely, accidents do happen—and when they do, it’s best to be prepared. While most people are at least vaguely familiar with how to handle a broken bone, many don’t know what to do when their child suffers a dental injury.

 Handling a dental emergency properly and knowing when to call the emergency dentist can impact whether or not the dentist will be able to save the tooth. Similarly, acting calm and collected will help your child feel less scared. There are many different types of dental emergencies, however, and knowing how to handle each one can be tricky. To help you know exactly how to take control of a situation if a dental emergency does happen, we’ve detailed what you should do if you’re ever faced with some of the most common dental emergencies we see in our office.

Broken Tooth

If your child breaks a tooth, do your best to collect the broken pieces and have your child rinse their mouth with warm water to ensure there aren’t any pieces in their mouth. Hold onto the tooth fragments, as your family dentist may be able to use dental bonding to reattach them to your child’s tooth. Use gauze to stop any bleeding or to provide a buffer that will prevent any jagged edges on the tooth from cutting your child’s cheek or tongue, and call your dentist immediately to schedule an emergency appointment. You can use a cold compress to minimize swelling and relieve pain while you travel to the dentist, but be careful not to keep ice on the area for too long, as that can cause other problems.

Chipped Tooth

You should handle a chipped tooth in much the same way you would a broken tooth; if you can find the piece that chipped off your child’s tooth, hold onto it just in case their dentist can use it to repair the tooth. A chipped tooth is only a dental emergency if your child is in a lot of pain or if it has created a sharp edge on your child’s tooth, so you may not need to rush straight out to the emergency room. You should still call the dentist right away and schedule an appointment for your child, as the rough surface and thinner enamel of a chipped tooth is more vulnerable to decay and it may be more susceptible to another injury. It’s best to have a dentist look at and treat the tooth at the next available appointment.

Toothache

There are many different types of toothaches—sharp, aching, throbbing, and more—with a large variety of potential causes. Not all toothaches are dental emergencies, but they should all be taken very seriously and all warrant a call to the dentist. A toothache is considered a dental emergency if it’s severe or if it’s accompanied by symptoms like swelling, a fever, or visible pus. In these cases, you should call your family dentist immediately for an emergency appointment; severe toothaches can signal a major cavity or an abscess, both of which require immediate treatment. Make sure you ask your child to describe their pain and report this to the dentist when you call, as the descriptors they use can provide hints to the cause of their pain. While you head to the dentist, you can use cold compresses, over-the-counter pain medications, or proven home remedies like clove oil to minimize your child’s pain—just make sure to tell us what you’ve already given your child for pain when you arrive at our office.

 In contrast, if your child has a more minor or moderate toothache, try flossing their teeth and having them rinse their mouth with lukewarm water to make sure there’s no food stuck in their gums. If this doesn’t resolve the problem, your child may have a severe cavity or similar issue that will only get worse if you try and wait for it to go away on its own, so call your family dentist right away to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Cracked Tooth

A cracked tooth can be incredibly painful and risks exposing the soft dentin—or, in severe cases, even the tooth pulp—to oral bacteria and decay, so it requires immediate treatment. Thankfully, cracked teeth are relatively simple to handle, as you don’t have to go searching for pieces of your child’s tooth. Have your child rinse their mouth out with warm water straight away, do your best to clean the area, and use a cold compress to keep any swelling down while you call your emergency dentist to get your child an appointment right away.

Sudden Pain

Sudden pain in one or more of your child’s teeth is definitely a cause for concern, and like other types of tooth pain, it can have a range of causes, from a cavity to an infection or a cracked tooth. When your child begins reporting these symptoms to you, it’s wise to take them seriously—whether it’s sharp and disappears immediately afterward, or throbbing and constant, severe, sudden onset pain in a tooth needs to be addressed by an emergency dentist right away. Like with other toothaches, have your child describe their pain to you so that you can share this information when you call their dentist to schedule an emergency appointment.

Knocked-Out Tooth

If one of your child’s teeth gets knocked out, handling the tooth properly and getting your child immediate emergency treatment is more essential than ever as it can impact whether or not their dentist will be able to save the tooth. Your family dentist will have the best chance of saving your child’s tooth if you arrive at the office within 30 minutes of the accident, so call your child’s emergency dentist as soon as possible. In the meantime, you should pick up their tooth by the crown, which is the visible chewing surface of the tooth, and rinse it off with lukewarm water. Never touch the tooth by its root and never scrub the tooth or remove any tissue that seems to be hanging off of it.

 If possible, put the tooth root back in your child’s mouth and have them hold it in place by gently biting down on a piece of gauze or by applying gentle pressure with their fingers. When this isn’t an option, the tooth needs to be kept wet, so submerge it in a small container filled with your child’s saliva, milk, or water. On the way to the dentist, use gauze and light pressure to try and control the bleeding and a cold compress to help with swelling and pain. You can also give your child over-the-counter pain medication, but make sure to tell us what you’ve already given them for pain when you arrive at our office.

When in Doubt

Admittedly, it can be hard to know when your child is facing a dental emergency, especially when less obvious symptoms like tooth pain are involved. It’s hard to know exactly how severe your child’s toothache is, especially since you’re relying on their description of their pain rather than evidence you can see. Are they being a little overdramatic? Or are they downplaying their pain because they don’t want to go to the dentist?

 In situations like this, or if you simply aren’t sure whether your child’s tooth is chipped severely enough to warrant an immediate call to the emergency dentist, a good rule of thumb is this: when in doubt, call your dentist immediately. It’s always better to get in to see a dentist right away and learn that the problem isn’t as dire as it could have been than it is to wait and allow the issue to become more severe—and more painful—in the meantime. When you go ahead and call the emergency dentist, the worst-case scenario is that your child will get treatment a little sooner than they otherwise would have—and that’s a pretty good outcome. 

 You may not be able to prevent dental emergencies from happening, but learning how to handle them before they do will help you stay calm in the moment and prevent you from making mistakes that could make things worse. Instead, you’ll be able to take control of the situation, keep your child calm, and take the right steps to ensure that they get immediate treatment with the best chance of success.