From a sudden ache to a broken front tooth from falling, dental emergencies can happen at any time. If you’re in pain and not sure what to do, this guide will help you determine whether your situation is classed as a true dental emergency or something that can wait until your dentist’s regular opening hours. If your situation isn’t on this list, contact your dental care provider for further details.


What Is Considered a Dental Emergency?

Not sure what a true dental emergency includes? Here’s a chart to help you determine if your condition meets the criteria.

Symptoms or Reason Is It a True Emergency? What to Do in the Meantime
Broken tooth Yes If you suspect you have a broken tooth, it is best to clean your mouth with warm water. Apply a cold compress to the outside of your face to reduce swelling and take acetaminophen for the pain. Avoid numbing gel, which can cause gum damage. Contact an emergency dentist
Chipped tooth No In general, this doesn’t require an emergency dentist. However, this depends on how much of the tooth is chipped and how much it hurts.
Loose or missing tooth Yes While a loose tooth isn’t an immediate emergency, it is important to see a dentist within a day or so. A missing tooth is deemed an emergency and you should contact your dentist as soon as possible. Take these 4 steps for the best chance of successfully reinserting the tooth.
Fractured or cracked tooth Yes If the fracture or crack is causing great pain or causing trauma to the inside of the mouth, contact an emergency dentist immediately. Learn more about the types of cracks and treatment options.
Toothache Yes and No A minor toothache isn’t usually a cause for emergency care. Pain is also highly subjective. However, if the pain is excessive or is part of an abscess, contact your dentist immediately.
Abscess Yes An abscess is an emergency that needs to be seen immediately to reduce the risk of infection. Contact your dentist as soon as possible.
Pus or infection Yes Evidence of pus or infection could be a symptom of a greater problem.
Bleeding gums or mouth Yes If you are experiencing a significant amount of blood loss, it is important to see a dentist immediately. Minor bleeding–such as after brushing your teeth–is not deemed an emergency, but should still be monitored.
Swollen face or gums Yes This is often an indicator of a much larger problem. If your pain level is significant, seek emergency dental treatment.
Lost or broken dental appliances (crowns, fillings, bridges, braces, dentures) No This is generally not an emergency unless it is causing you great pain. Call your dentist to discuss possible repair options.


Emergency Dentist or Emergency Room

Sometimes, your condition will be serious enough that you need to visit the emergency room instead of a dentist. While the boundaries are not always clear, the following usually describe situations where the emergency room is more appropriate (if in doubt, always take the safest option):

  • Jaw Fractures
  • Jaw Dislocations
  • Cuts or Lacerations to the Face or Mouth
  • Abscess Infections Affecting Your Breathing or Swallowing
  • Other Dental Emergencies Causing High Fever

These types of scenarios are often deemed true emergencies and require immediate medical attention. Do not wait for the dentist’s office to schedule an appointment. Call 9-1-1 or go to a local hospital immediately, as failure to do so might cause greater damage or reduce the chance of saving the tooth.


Who to Call When You Have a Dental Emergency

If you have a dental emergency, it is important to get in touch with your regular dentist. The staff should be able to help you determine if you need to be seen immediately or if you can be scheduled within a few days. Here’s what to do based on the time of day at which you are calling.


During Regular Business Hours

If you encounter a dental emergency during normal business hours, contact your dentist immediately to explain your situation. In many cases, they’ll be able to fit schedule an appointment the same day or within a reasonable amount of time. If not, they could advise you as to what to do for your type of dental injury and advise whether you should seek emergency medical treatment. They might also provide insight on how to treat pain temporarily until other options of treatment are possible.


Out of Hours Including Nights, Weekends, and Holidays

Even if your dental emergency is outside of normal business hours, there are many options available. It is still important to call your regular dentist’s office and check their website for details. In many cases, an emergency number or corresponding emergency instructions might be listed. If you cannot find one, you should attempt to call the office anyway and speak to the answering service. The overnight staff is often able to have someone call you back as soon as possible. Instructions might also be listed on the outgoing voicemail message or as part of paperwork from previous dental work. If that doesn’t get you anywhere and your condition is deemed severe based on the criteria above, go to the emergency room for treatment.


Here at Bunker Hill Dentistry we help patients having a dental emergency by being open six days a week when necessary and taking both phone and walk-in appointments. When you call or come into our office, we will do everything within our power to see you the same day. To speak with one of our dental professionals about your oral health condition, ask questions and to schedule an appointment, call us at 832-834-5281. Learn more about our emergency dentist services.

What happens once you’ve arrived at your emergency appointment? What can or can’t dentists do and what else to expect? We answer those questions here.