A toothache can range from a mild inconvenience to a debilitating pain that affects your ability to go about your daily life. Toothaches rarely resolve on their own (because their underlying cause must be addressed), so toothaches require attention from a dental professional. But when is it a dental emergency?
This month, Mehrnoosh Darj, DDS, discusses whether a severe toothache qualifies as a dental emergency and provides guidance on when you should visit Dr. Darj Dental in El Paso, Texas, for urgent dental care.
Understanding dental emergencies
A dental emergency refers to any oral health issue that requires immediate attention to alleviate pain, to prevent further damage, or to save a tooth. It’s crucial to distinguish between a minor toothache that can wait for a regular appointment within a day or two and a severe toothache that demands urgent intervention.
When is a severe toothache considered a dental emergency?
A minor toothache may cause discomfort when you eat or drink something hot or cold. The pain may be mild, intermittent, or become apparent only when you chew. You should have your dentist evaluate all toothaches, even minor ones, but you likely won’t have any issues waiting a few days for that appointment.
On the other hand, severe toothaches are considered a dental emergency and require immediate attention. Severe decay, fractures, avulsed teeth, and infections can all contribute to toothaches that warrant seeking out urgent dental care.
You might be dealing with a dental emergency if your toothache is accompanied by:
Intense, persistent pain
If your toothache is excruciating and doesn't subside or worsens over time, it could be a sign of a severe underlying issue such as an infection. The only way to find relief is through dental care that treats the underlying infection, decay, damage, or abscess.
A pimple-like bump on your gums
If your toothache is accompanied by a pimple-like lump on your gums, you may have an abscess. Abscesses are pus-filled pockets that form as a result of a bacterial infection, and they require prompt treatment to prevent the spread of infection and potential complications.
Fever and facial swelling
If your toothache is accompanied by fever, facial swelling (edema), or difficulty breathing and swallowing, it could be a sign of a serious infection. In such cases, seek emergency care without delay. Toothaches and oral infections can quickly escalate and develop into a systemic infection.
Trauma or injury
Trauma or injury to your mouth, such as a fall or accident, may also contribute to a severe toothache. In these cases, urgent dental care can help save your affected tooth and prevent further damage.
Steps to take for immediate relief
At Dr. Darj Dental, we reserve appointment slots for emergencies, so it’s important to call us as soon as you realize you’re dealing with a dental emergency. In some cases, such as a fracture or avulsed tooth, getting treatment within 30-60 minutes can help save your tooth.
While you await dental care, take these steps to find temporary relief from a severe toothache:
Warm saltwater rinse
Dissolve half of a teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of warm water, and gently rinse your mouth to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
Over-the-counter pain relief
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin can temporarily relieve toothache pain. Follow the recommended dosage and consult a health care professional if needed.
Note: Even if OTC pain relief medication reduces your pain, don’t postpone calling our office. Pain medications can mask the pain, but they don’t treat the underlying cause of your toothache.
Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area to reduce swelling and numb the pain temporarily. Be sure to keep a cloth or tea towel between the ice pack and your face to prevent damaging your skin.
Steer clear of hot, cold, or sugary foods and beverages that can aggravate the pain and sensitivity.
Preventing dental emergencies
While emergencies can happen unexpectedly, you can take steps to minimize the risk:
- Practice good oral hygiene
- Wear protective gear (mouthguards) when you’re engaged in sports
- Avoid harmful habits, such as chewing on pens or ice
The bottom line: Contact Dr. Darj Dental at the first sign of a severe toothache or any oral health concern. For dental emergencies, call our office at 915-213-4097. For less urgent matters, you can book an appointment online anytime.