Learning to Identify Dental Emergencies

Routine oral care is simple and straightforward; it’s fairly easy to fall into a routine of taking your family to the dentist every six months and encouraging your child to brush, floss, and—if they’re old enough—use mouthwash every day. Unfortunately, when something goes wrong, it can be hard to know exactly what to do or whether it qualifies as a dental emergency or not.

Cuts and scrapes can be easily evaluated and patched up at home, but dental issues aren’t always so cut-and-dry, especially since the source of a toothache or bleeding gums is often hard for parents to pinpoint. Identifying a dental emergency right away ensures your child gets swift treatment—and this skill is more important than ever now that dental offices are closed for everything but emergency visits. As a result, we’ve put together a guide to help you know if your child needs emergency dental care.

Your child’s gums bleed excessively when they brush their teeth.

Bleeding gums are often a sign of gum disease, where bacteria at the gumline irritates and inflames the gums. Flossing breaks up plaque at the gumline, making it vital to prevent gum disease. It’s normal for your child’s gums to bleed a little when they first start flossing regularly, but this bleeding should be minor and should go away on its own after a week or so. If your child’s gums bleed excessively when they’re simply brushing their teeth, however, this is a sign of severe gum disease that requires their dentist’s immediate attention. Severe gum disease, called periodontitis, can damage the supporting structures of teeth over time, eventually leading to tooth loss.

They break a tooth.

If your child breaks a tooth, you should immediately call our office for an emergency appointment. Use gauze to gently stop any bleeding in your child’s mouth, and do your best to find the pieces of their broken tooth, as their pediatric dentist may be able to put the tooth back together using dental bonding. It’s also a good idea to keep the tooth wrapped in gauze or put dental wax on it to prevent its jagged edges from cutting your child’s mouth.

Your child knocks a tooth loose.

Baby teeth are meant to loosen and fall out naturally, so it may seem like an injury that makes one of your child’s baby teeth loose a little early isn’t a big deal. However, any injury that knocks a tooth loose without knocking it out—whether it’s an adult or baby tooth—requires an immediate trip to the dentist. There may be damage to the tooth’s root or to still-developing adult teeth in your child’s jaw, so their dentist will likely need to take an X-ray of their mouth to determine if there’s any damage. While you’re on your way to the dentist, do your best to gently stabilize your child’s tooth with a piece of gauze.

Your child’s tooth gets knocked out.

Getting a tooth knocked out is clearly a dental emergency, but it’s one that requires you to take immediate action. Handling the tooth correctly and getting your child to the dentist immediately can actually save their natural tooth, as their dentist may be able to anchor it back in your child’s jaw.

Your child’s tooth hurts when they eat.

Pain when your child eats can have a wide range of causes, from a cracked tooth, which isn’t always visible to the naked eye, to an abscess or a cavity. Each of these issues requires immediate treatment; cracked teeth are vulnerable to decay and infection, abscesses can cause dangerous fevers and infections that can spread throughout the body, and painful cavities indicate that decay may have already reached a tooth’s nerve.

They have a persistent toothache.

Persistent pain isn’t always a sign of a dental emergency, so ask your child about their pain when you’re trying to decide if you should call for emergency dental care. If your child’s gums are slightly swollen in the area that’s painful, they may simply have food stuck in their gums, so it’s a good idea to floss their teeth carefully and thoroughly. Generally, however, a persistent toothache is a sign of a larger issue, such as a cavity or an abscess. Call your dentist right away to schedule an emergency appointment; they should be able to determine the cause of your child’s pain after taking X-rays and examining your child’s mouth.

Your child’s tooth sensitivity may or may not be a dental emergency.

Tooth sensitivity, which is usually related to changes in temperature but can also respond to acidic or sweet foods, may or may not be a dental emergency. Some people simply have sensitive teeth, an issue that can be remedied by using a toothpaste that’s specifically designed to alleviate it. It can also be caused by gum recession, a cracked tooth, gum disease, bruxism (grinding the teeth together), or enamel erosion. These issues can lead to bigger problems if they go untreated, so it’s important for you to schedule an emergency appointment with your child’s dentist to determine the cause of their tooth sensitivity—especially if it’s severe or if specialized toothpaste doesn’t eliminate the issue.

Your teenager is experiencing severe pain at the back of their jaws.

Severe pain at the back of your teenager’s jaws may indicate that they have an impacted wisdom tooth. In addition to being very painful, impacted wisdom teeth can trap food and plaque around the tooth, causing cavities, swelling and pain in their gums, and persistent bad breath. If they’re left untreated, they can also lead to painful cysts or infections, so you should schedule an emergency appointment for your child immediately if you suspect they’re suffering from an impacted wisdom tooth.

While COVID-19 has shut down many of our daily services, we’re still available to help you and your child through any dental emergency, so don’t hesitate to call our office right away if you suspect your child needs immediate dental care. Whether your child has a toothache or a knocked-out tooth, we can walk you through how to handle the situation and will be glad to provide immediate, expert dental care.