Ways to handle dental emergencies | Auburn's Dr. Rich

Unforeseen dental problems can range from the mild annoyance of a chipped tooth that is irritating your tongue, all the way up to an intensely painful, abscessed tooth.

The chances of enduring the most typical dental emergencies usually can be prevented by having regular preventive dental visits that include a cleaning, examination and X-rays.

Your dentist usually can spot trouble during such and appointment long before it becomes a painful emergency. However, when a dental emergency does strike, knowing how to temporarily alleviate the pain can feel like lifesaving information.

Typically, when a significant toothache shows up, your dental office is always the best place to go. But what do you do if it’s the weekend, your dentist is out of town or you are? What, if anything can you do to alleviate and stabilize things yourself until you can be seen by your dentist?

Actually, there are often things you can do.

If your tooth has been sensitive on and off for a while, but suddenly seems to have gotten a lot worse, chances are the nerve inside the tooth has become infected and swollen. Call your dentist. You have the beginnings of an abscessed tooth and likely have only two options: root canal therapy or an extraction.

If your toothache starts immediately after eating something that became lodged between your teeth, grab some floss and see if you can remove it, followed by swishing with warm salt water. If that doesn’t do it, avoid the temptation to use a paperclip or some other tool, since you risk making things worse. Popcorn hulls are the most common culprit.

If you have had a filling or a crown come out, there are products like Dentemp available at most drugstores and pharmacies that allow you to temporarily re-cement crowns or even make temporary fillings by mixing it into a thick paste and pushing it into the space with a damp Q-tip. In a pinch, even sugarless gum can be used as a temporary covering for a sensitive tooth. Just chew it up until soft and then mold it into the area with your tongue for temporary relief.

What if someone has knocked out a tooth from a blow, a fall or a sports accident? Rinse off the tooth with water or milk. Avoid handling the root itself and do not scrub it, as you will damage the critical ligament tissue that will help it reattach to the bone. Gently insert it back into the socket if possible, or store it in milk, water or even the injured person’s mouth between the cheek and gum. In any case, do not let it dry out. Getting it back into the socket within 30 minutes will improve the success rate. Get to the dentist ASAP for stabilization and antibiotics.

If you receive a blow to your front tooth and a large piece fractures off, attempt to locate the fragment and bring it with you to the dentist, stored in water. It may be able to be reattached.

The above information should prove useful in about 90 percent of the typical things I see on a monthly basis in my office. Again, many of these scenarios can be avoided by regular exams.

Don’t put them off and your chances of having your vacation or another special event ruined by a toothache are slim. Prevention is always more cost effective than emergency care, and more comfortable for everyone.

Dr. Stuart Rich, an Auburn dentist with more than 23 years of experience, can be reached at

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