How to Handle a Dental Emergency

By Dr. James Forester | Sep 20, 2022 | General Oral Care
dental emergency

Wondering how to handle a dental emergency? You’re not alone.

(NOTE: If you’re injured or sick and need immediate medical care, you know to visit an emergency room or urgent care clinic, most of which are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.)

But do you know what to do if your teeth, mouth, or jaw are injured? What if your family dentist’s office is closed when you need urgent care?

You can adopt a protocol for handling dental emergencies, just as you have done for health emergencies.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Common causes of dental emergencies
  • What to do in case of specific dental emergencies
  • How to prepare for dental emergencies

The very nature of an emergency is that it’s unexpected, and quite often emergent situations occur at inconvenient times.

Dr. Forester of Lifetime Smiles in Johns Creek, GA, is an experienced emergency dentist, as well as a family dentist. If you do not have an emergency dentist on call and you live in the Johns Creek area, put Dr. Forester’s phone number in your phone right now: (770) 232-1830.

Common Causes of Dental Emergencies

Before we delve into specific types of dental emergencies, take a look at your first aid kit. You should carry a small kit in your bag or purse and keep larger versions in your car and home.

For a dental emergency first aid kit, you should have gauze, a tea bag, a sealable sandwich bag, and a flosser or dental floss.

causesAccidental Injury

Trauma can result from various types of accidents. Most often, mouth and facial trauma occur from automobile accidents, sporting accidents, or falls. People may experience damage to teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue, lips, or jaw.

Long-term Damage

Cavities grow if left untreated, and infection can spread to surrounding tissues, including teeth, gums, and bone. If you do not seek treatment for a cavity, an intense toothache may develop.

The same is true of cracks. Without restoration, a cracked tooth can break in two (vertically or horizontally), leaving sensitive nerves exposed. Ouch!

poor carePoor Oral Home Care

Twice a day, children and adults need to brush their teeth with an ADA-approved, age-appropriate toothpaste.

And don’t skip flossing! Bits of food and plaque between teeth can lead to pain and tooth decay.

By practicing preventive home dental care as recommended, you will reduce the potential for a dental emergency and toothaches.

Locked or Painful Jaw Movement

The joints that hold the lower jaw to the skull are called TMJs, which stands for temporomandibular joints. When the TMJs are irritated, pain occurs. If the TMJ problem is not treated, muscles may become rigid and the jaw may lock, leaving the mouth in an open position.

Dental Emergency: What to Do When…

Here are some tips explaining how to react in dental emergency situations. Share it with your family so that they, too, can be prepared to provide first aid.

mouth gauzeBroken or Dislodged Tooth

Trauma to the mouth can break a tooth or knock it free from its socket. In some cases, more than one tooth may be damaged.

  • For a dislodged tooth, treat bleeding by gently placing gauze over the socket and applying moderate pressure. A moist tea bag may be applied if gauze is not on hand.
  • You do not want to harm the exposed nerve or push debris into the socket.
  • Ice may be applied to the exterior of the face, over the trauma site, to reduce bleeding, swelling, and pain. Wrap ice in a towel; do not place ice directly on the skin.
  • For a chip or dislodged tooth, find the lost piece(s). Rinse tenderly under clean water, then put them (or the full tooth) into a container. Add milk or the patient’s saliva for moisture, then seal the container.
  • Take both the patient and the container to our emergency dentist.

Note: if the tooth is fully intact, not in pieces, you may gently rinse the socket with water and try to place the tooth into the socket. If it fits and does not cause significant pain, the patient can apply gauze and hold it in place on the trip to our dentist’s office.

Gum, Lip, Tongue, or Cheek Laceration

If possible, gently pour clean water over the wound. Then apply gauze and pressure. The patient can use ice, with a cloth barrier, over the wound to reduce swelling and bleeding. Next, go to your local emergency room or urgent care clinic. The patient may need stitches.

If the patient also has tooth trauma, call our emergency dentist for next steps.

toothacheToothache with No Trauma

If you develop an acute pain that keeps you from performing normal daily activities, or from sleeping, first try flossing your teeth. A piece of food lodged between teeth can irritate to the point of causing significant pain. Rinse your mouth with water.

If the toothache persists, you may have a chip, crack, cavity, internal tooth infection, or abscess. See our dentist as soon as possible. If the pain keeps you from normal daily tasks or sleep, call our emergency dentist.

Toothache with Trauma

Whether you’ve allowed a cavity to go untreated for too long or your mouth is damaged in an accident, ultimately you will need to visit our dentist.

Locked Jaw or Painful Jaw Movement

Research on TMJ urgent cases at the emergency department of the University of Bern Hospital in Switzerland shows that most TMJ emergencies in the study were non-traumatic. This means that they were not a result of injury, but rather a natural development.

When the TMJ joints become locked, the mouth will not close, so emergency treatment may be necessary if the patient cannot visit his dentist for aid.

boken jawSuspected Broken or Dislocated Jaw

Is your jaw broken? According to, these symptoms are common in patients with broken or dislocated jaws. Should you have these symptoms, call our emergency dentist or visit your local emergency room immediately.

  • Pain in the jaw, just in front of the ear(s)
  • Pain worsens with jaw or mouth movement
  • Bruising and swelling on the face, over the painful area
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Pain or difficulty chewing
  • The mouth opens more full on one side
  • Jaw stiffness or problems completely opening/closing the mouth
  • A lump on part of the jaw
  • Ear pain
  • Numbness
  • Teeth feel misaligned or “off” from normal bite

Be Prepared for a Dental Emergency

They may never happen to you or your children, but then again, you never know. The nature of an emergency is that it happens when you aren’t expecting it.

So, the first thing to do is put the number of our respected emergency dentist in your phone under “Emergency Dentist.”

If you live in the Johns Creek, GA area, Dr. Forester at Lifetime Smiles is a wise choice. You can reach him at (770) 232-1830.