In my many years of practice, I’ve seen a number of patients come in because they suffered some kind of traumatic injury to their teeth, cheeks, tongue, or jaw. First, remember that many of the most common injuries can be avoided by wearing a mouthguard while playing sports. Injuries can also be caused by chewing popcorn kernels, ice or hard candy, or by using your teeth as a cutting tool for tape or food wrappers. However, some accidents are unavoidable and so you need to be prepared for a variety of possibilities. Below I’ve outlined some of the most common emergency cases and what you can do until you get to a dentist or hospital.
Common symptoms of a toothache include sharp, throbbing or constant pain on or around one tooth or multiple teeth, especially when pressure is applied to the tooth or teeth. In severe cases, patients may also suffer from fever, headaches, earaches or pain when opening their mouths. A toothache can be caused by a number of problems including tooth decay, abscessed tooth, gum infection, and tooth fracture. Do not ignore the symptoms of a toothache; the pain can be indicative of a serious underlying problem that will remain even if the pain subsides. If your pain is severe, lasts more than 1 day, or spreads to your ears and head, do not hesitate to see a dentist immediately. In the meantime, rinse your mouth with warm water to clean it, floss between your teeth to dislodge any food, and apply a cold compress to decrease swelling and reduce pain. Do not put aspirin or any other type of pain killer directly on the tooth as this will damage your gums.
An abscess is an infection of the nerve in the tooth or between the tooth and the gums. Abscesses are usually very painful and may be visible as a pimple on the gum line. An abscess must be treated immediately, as the infection can spread to other parts of the body if left alone. To reduce pain, try rinsing your mouth with warm salt water several times every day.
Chipped or Broken Tooth:
First of all, try to gather any tooth fragments and keep them to bring to your dentist. Rinse both your mouth and the broken pieces with warm water. If there is bleeding, apply gauze to the affected area for about 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops. Also, apply a cold compress to the outside of your mouth close to the broken tooth to reduce pain and swelling. Most importantly, don’t worry – there are a number of excellent cosmetic options for fixing that chipped tooth, and they can all be completed quickly so you won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of a damaged smile.
Do not panic. Retrieve the tooth, hold it by the crown, and rinse it off using warm water. Be sure not to scrub the root or any tissue that is attached. It is best to try to put the tooth back in place if at all possible, but do not force it into the socket. If you can’t get the tooth back in, just place it in a cup of milk and take it with you to the dentist’s office (you can also use salt water if milk is not available). Knocked-out teeth are most likely to be saved within the first hour, so it is critical that you get to the dentist as soon as possible.
Damage to Cheek, Tongue, Lips or Gums:
Injuries of this type can sometimes cause severe bleeding because mouth tissue is very soft. First, rinse your mouth with warm salt water to clean the area. Then, apply wet gauze for 15-20 minutes to stop the bleeding. If the bleeding does not stop, you need to get to the hospital or dentist immediately, you may require stitches.
This should be enough information to keep you in good condition until you reach a dentist for treatment. It’s important to remain calm and to never ignore the symptoms of a serious dental problem. As always, feel free to contact me with questions if you are unsure about how to handle a dental emergency.
Next week we are going to move on to a topic that many people are self-conscious about: the quality of their smile. A flawed smile can result in poor self-image or low self-esteem. Some people find it difficult to meet new people and interact in social settings because they’re afraid to smile. I’ll give you some simple tips for improving your smile, and I’ll review a number of cosmetic treatments that are easier and more affordable than you might think.
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