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Ben Wilcox
Ben is the practice principal at Shore Dental, Sydney. He graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2004 and…

What To Do In a Dental Emergency

November 29, 2016 by Ben Wilcox

A Dental Emergency

refers to an injury or infection of your teeth or mouth, such as a broken or dislodged tooth, injured gums, a toothache or oral swelling. Whether a dental injury is causing pain or not, it is advised that you always seek dental treatment so that the teeth/tooth can be repaired, infections and injuries healed and further damage prevented. Before you set off for the dentist though, there are a number of dental first aid steps you can take in order to improve the chances of a successful recovery.


Many people do not think of a toothache as a dental emergency, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! If your arm – for example – was aching as much as a toothache, you’d not think twice about seeking medical care, so why would you delay seeking dental care for a toothache? If you’re experiencing a toothache, you’ll usually be able to book in with a dentist on the same day, whether you’re going to a private or public dentist. In the meantime, you can:

  • Rinse your mouth gently with warm, salty water to remove debris and keep the area moist
  • Treat swelling with a cold compress against the side of the face where pain is present. Do not use a warm or hot compress, as this may increase swelling and aggravate pain.
  • Treat pain with an over-the-counter analgesic, such as paracetamol or paracetamol with codeine. Avoid aspirin or ibuprofen until after treatment, as these may increase your chances of bleeding.
  • Do not place items such as aspirin, undiluted tea tree oil, garlic juice or similar directly on the tooth, as this may cause soft tissue burns. Instead, opt for a toothache rinse or clove oil drops designed specifically for a toothache.
  • See a dentist as soon as possible.

Mouth abscesses or swelling

An abscess is a swollen, pus-filled infection inside, under or near a tooth. Abscesses are usually extremely painful, but sometimes, a person can have an abscess that goes unnoticed (usually after a period of pain that has resolved itself) or drains itself, causing little or no pain. Symptoms range from a foul smelling discharge in the mouth to a dull ache, intense pain, swollen face and lymph glands and fever. If left untreated, an abscess can be life threatening!

If you have an abscess, you should:

  • Treat pain with an over-the-counter analgesic, such as paracetamol or paracetamol with codeine.
  • Apply a cold compress to the site of any swelling.
  • Seek dental or medical treatment as soon as possible. If you see a doctor, he or she will likely prescribe antibiotics, but it’s still important to follow-up with dental treatment as antibiotics will only treat the immediate infection – not prevent the source of the infection from causing further problems.

Dislodged tooth

If a child has a baby tooth (deciduous or milk tooth) knocked out (not fallen out itself), you should:

  • Apply gentle pressure with a sterile gauze pad to the socket and surrounding gum to stop bleeding.
  • Do not attempt to hold a baby tooth in the socket as this may cause damage to the underlying adult tooth.
  • See a dentist as soon as possible if you believe there may be trauma to the surrounding gums or lips.

If you knock out a permanent adult tooth, you should:

  • Attempt to find the dislodged tooth, but be careful to only handle the crown of the tooth – not the roots.
  • Do not attempt to remove any tissue fragment from the tooth, even if there is a significant amount.
  • If the tooth appears to be dirty, give it a quick rinse in water or milk or the owner of the tooth can gently suck it clean; however, be sure that the person doing so is unlikely to inhale or swallow the tooth (i.e, a child, elderly person or somebody in shock, for instance, may accidentally inhale or swallow the tooth).
  • As soon as possible, replace the tooth in its socket and gently hold it in place.
  • If the above is not possible, keep the tooth moist by holding it in the tooth owner’s mouth in the cheek pocket (remembering the above cautions), placing it in a glass of milk (but not water) or sealing it in a plastic wrap. It’s important not to let the tooth dry out, as this will prevent it from being saved.
  • Seek dental treatment as soon as possible.

If the above steps are followed, there’s a good chance the tooth can be reinserted and saved.

Cracked, chipped or fractured tooth

If you damage a tooth resulting in a crack, fracture or chip, you should examine the tooth for signs of nerve exposure (in which you will see a pink colour). If there doesn’t appear to be any exposed nerves, seek dental treatment at your convenience. If there does appear to be nerve exposure or you are experiencing pain, seek dental treatment as soon as possible as receiving prompt dental treatment can save your tooth. If a fragment of tooth has chipped off, it’s a good idea to bring it into the dentist with you.

For more comprehensive information on broken or fractured tooth injuries, visit our Dental Surgery for a Damaged or Broken Tooth page.

Trauma to the mouth and dental bleeding

If you have sustained damage to your gums, lips or cheeks, you should:

  • Use a sterile gauze, bandage or other clean material to apply gentle but firm pressure to the site of bleeding. This pressure should be maintained for at least 10 minutes, or until bleeding stops and it’s advisable to sit upright, as laying flat will promote bleeding. Seek urgent medical attention if bleeding cannot be controlled.
  • When bleeding has stopped, apply a cold compress on or near the site to help control swelling and pain.
  • Rinse the area gently with a warm, salt water rinse (half a teaspoon of salt per cup) to clear away debris and reduce the chance of infection.
  • Seek medical attention unless the injury is fairly benign.

Jaw pain

Jaw pain can be caused by a number of things, but whether through injury or not, long-term jaw pain should always be diagnosed. In the meantime, you can:

  • Reduce pain and swelling with a cold compress
  • Use anti-inflammatory medication.

If you need an emergency appointment, a future appointment or just some professional dental advice, give us a call or CLICK HERE to request a callback.