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When Is Dental Pain An Emergency?

Category: General Dentistry

Dental pain runs the range from dull aches to sharp, acute pangs. And it can be extremely disruptive to your day. How do you know when dental pain is just a fleeting feeling and when it warrants an emergency dental visit?


  1. The first rule is – call your dentist first. Many of them have emergency hours or numbers for off times. Their office personnel can help you determine how quickly (if at all) you should be seen by a professional. Going to a hospital emergency room should be your final option – while they are trained to treat emergencies of all kinds, they are typically not prepared to treat dental emergencies in the most effective, efficient way. But in a true emergency, it’s better to be treated than to wait.
  2. You’ve lost a tooth. As an adult, of course, not a baby tooth. If you’ve lost a tooth and it can be reimplanted within an hour, there’s a good chance the tooth will survive. Contact your dentist ASAP so as not to miss your window. Don’t touch the root of the tooth. In this case, if you cannot reach your dentist, the ER is an appropriate solution.
  3. You’re experiencing dental pain with face or mouth swelling. This typically indicates some type of infection, and is a dental emergency. Don’t lie flat, even to sleep, and stay hydrated.
  4. You break, chip or crack a tooth. Generally, these are not dental emergencies. Though you’ll surely want to have your tooth repaired as quickly as possible, unless you’re experiencing a great deal of pain you can stay calm and rest assured that you’ve got time. Call your dentist and give them as many details as possible about the injury – they’ll be able to guide you and make an appointment within an appropriate amount of time. Remember – sensitivity is normal with broken teeth, and is not the same as dental pain.
  5. If you’re bleeding from the mouth. In general, your mouth is surprisingly good at preventing bleeding. If you’re experiencing ongoing bleeding (20 minutes or more), keep your head elevated and call you dentist.
  6. Lingering sensitivity can indicate a tooth or gum abscess, and should not be ignored. You should try to be seen by your dentist within a day. Abscesses are an indication of infection, and the earlier you treat them the more straightforward it will be.
  7. Pain caused by trauma. If you get hit in the face or experience other trauma that causes pain but doesn’t completely knock out a tooth, you should still see a dentist as soon as possible.
  8. Pain from biting down. If you’re experiencing pain when biting down, it could indicate an early abscess, but it could also be the result of tooth grinding (frequently at night). Call your dentist and let them know what you’re experiencing, and make an appointment within a few days.
  9. Toothache. Toothache pain has quite a range, but isn’t always serious. Take anti-inflammatories and make an appointment with your dentist within the next few days to make sure there’s nothing serious going on beneath the surface.


Dental pain almost always warrants a call to your dentist to ensure serious issues aren’t ignored (and made worse!). True dental emergencies, like any other medical emergency, require proper care by a trained professional, and time matters! If you’re experiencing dental pain that seems out of the normal or is prolonged, call your dentist as soon as possible to get it figured out.