What is a Dental Emergency: Where To Go For Care?

Have you ever experienced a sudden toothache that feels like it’s taking over your entire day or had a piece of your tooth chip off unexpectedly? These are moments that highlight the immediate and often unsettling nature of dental emergencies. Knowing what is a dental emergency and where to get timely care can be crucial in relieving pain, avoiding further issues, and maintaining good oral health.

Let us understand “What is a Dental Emergency?” so that we’re all better prepared to handle such situations when they arise.

What is a Dental Emergency? 

A dental emergency refers to any sudden and severe dental problem that requires urgent treatment to alleviate pain, prevent infection, or save a tooth. These emergencies can occur due to various reasons, such as accidents, trauma, infections, or complications from existing dental issues.

Some dental emergencies may not pose an immediate life-threatening risk but still demand urgent attention. These include: 

  • Intense tooth pain due to decay or dying pulp
  • Discomfort from impacted wisdom teeth
  • Pain following tooth extraction or due to dry sockets
  • Infections like abscesses leading to pain and localized swelling
  • Objects lodged between teeth or under gums causing pain or swelling
  • Tooth chips, fractures, or lost fillings causing pain or trauma
  • Tooth trauma resulting in looseness, displacement, or loss
  • Loose orthodontic wires or dental appliances irritate cheeks or gums.

What are the Types of Dental Emergencies? 

Some common types of dental emergencies include:

  • Severe Tooth Pain: 

Persistent and intense toothache, especially accompanied by swelling or fever, may indicate an infection or abscess that requires immediate attention.

  • Broken or Knocked-Out Tooth: 

Accidents or injuries can lead to fractured, cracked, or completely knocked-out teeth. Quick action is crucial to save the tooth and prevent further damage.

  • Lost Dental Restorations: 

Losing a filling, crown, or dental bridge can expose sensitive tooth structures, leading to pain or discomfort. Receiving timely care helps protect the affected tooth.

  • Dental Abscess: 

A pus-filled swelling around the tooth or gum indicates a dental abscess, which can be extremely painful and requires immediate treatment to prevent the infection from spreading.

  • Severe Gum Bleeding: 

Persistent and profuse bleeding from the gums, especially after trauma or injury, may indicate gum disease or other underlying issues that need urgent evaluation.

How to Manage Common Dental Emergencies? 

Coping with dental emergencies can be stressful, but knowing how to manage can make all the difference. Here are some practical tips for managing common dental issues:


Even though not every toothache is an emergency, it’s crucial not to ignore persistent tooth pain. Toothaches can result from various causes, such as dental decay, cracked teeth, or infections. Contact your dentist promptly to determine the severity of your situation.

To alleviate toothache discomfort: 

  • Floss gently to get rid of any trapped food particles.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater (mix 1/2 tsp salt in 8 oz warm water).
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen.
  • Don’t place aspirin directly on the affected area to prevent tissue damage.
  • Apply a cold compress on swollen areas to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • If the pain persists or worsens, seek immediate dental attention for proper evaluation and treatment.

Dealing with Tooth Trauma 

Tooth trauma can occur in various ways, resulting in chipped, cracked, or knocked-out teeth. Here are guidelines to handle such situations:

Knocked-Out Tooth 

For a child’s primary (baby) tooth:

  • Apply pressure if there is bleeding and contact their dental professional promptly.
  • Avoid reinserting the baby tooth to prevent damage to the developing permanent tooth.

For a permanent tooth:

  • Immediately locate the tooth and hold it by the crown (not the root).
  • Avoid touching or cleaning the root, and do not let it dry out.
  • Reinsert the tooth into the socket if possible and keep it moist. If not possible, store it in milk, saliva, or a tooth-preservation solution.
  • Seek dental care immediately; saving the tooth is possible up to an hour after it’s been dislodged.

Dealing with Chipped or Broken Teeth 

Chipped, broken, or cracked teeth are common dental injuries, often minor but requiring immediate attention to prevent infection and potential tooth loss. Here’s what to do if you experience such an issue:

  • Rinse your mouth with warm water and look for rough edges, pain, or sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.
  • Apply a cold compress to the affected area if there’s swelling due to trauma.
  • Visit your dental professional promptly. If possible, bring any broken tooth fragments with you for evaluation and potential repair.

Dealing with Tongue, Cheek, or Lip Injuries 

Accidentally biting or cutting your tongue, cheek, or lip can be painful but often not severe. Follow these steps to manage such injuries:

  • Stay calm and gently wash the injured area with water to remove debris.
  • Control bleeding by applying moist gauze or a clean cloth with firm pressure until it stops.
  • Use a cold compress to decrease swelling and ease discomfort.
  • Keep the area clean to prevent infections, rinsing with salt water or a hydrogen peroxide-water mix.
  • Seek medical attention if bleeding persists uncontrollably or if there are signs of infection such as swelling, redness, fever, or pus.
  • For orthodontic braces-related injuries like loose wires or brackets causing discomfort, consult your orthodontist for temporary solutions until professional adjustment is possible.

What are the Tips for Preventing Dental Injuries?

Whether it’s from biting something hard, engaging in sports, or accidents, certain activities can put your smile at risk. Follow these guidelines to help prevent dental injuries:

  • Use a mouthguard during sports or recreational activities like biking or skating.
  • Wear a seatbelt for driving or riding in a vehicle, and use appropriate car seats for young children.
  • Childproof your home to minimize the risk of falls and accidents.
  • Schedule regular dental check-ups for everyone in your family to detect and address potential issues early.
  • Don’t chew on hard items such as ice, popcorn kernels, or hard candies that can crack your teeth.
  • Don’t use your teeth as a tool to open, rip, or cut objects, as this can cause damage.

Where to Seek Dental Emergency Care? 

When facing a dental emergency, knowing where to go for immediate care is crucial. Here are your best options:

Emergency Dental Clinics: 

Many dental practices offer emergency services or have after-hours availability for urgent cases. Check with your regular dentist or search for emergency dental clinics in your area.

Hospital Emergency Rooms: 

For severe dental injuries involving significant bleeding, trauma to the face or jaw, or situations where immediate dental care is not available, visit your nearest hospital emergency room.

Urgent Care Centers: 

Some urgent care centers have dental professionals on staff or can provide initial care and pain management for dental emergencies until you can see a dentist.

Dental Hotlines: 

Some areas have dental hotlines that can provide guidance on where to seek emergency dental care or offer advice on managing dental pain and discomfort until you can see a dentist.

Online Consultations: 

In non-life-threatening situations, virtual consultations with dentists via telemedicine platforms can be helpful for assessing dental issues and determining the next steps for care.

Always prioritize seeking professional dental care promptly for emergencies to prevent complications and ensure the best possible outcomes for your dental health.


Understanding “What is a dental emergency?” and knowing “Where to go for care?” can ensure timely treatment and better outcomes for dental issues. Stay informed, practice preventive care, and have contact information for emergency dental services handy to handle unexpected dental situations effectively.

Ready to address your dental concerns promptly? Contact First Class Smiles in Des Plaines, IL, for expert dental care. Schedule your appointment online for convenience, or call us at (847) 264-4152 for new patients and (847) 824-3536 for existing patients and general inquiries.


How can I differentiate between a dental emergency and a non-emergency? 

Dental emergencies involve severe pain, bleeding, trauma, or infection. If unsure, contact your dentist for guidance.

Is it necessary to visit a dental emergency clinic for a knocked-out tooth? 

Immediate care increases the chances of saving the tooth. Contact an emergency dental clinic or your dentist promptly.

What should I do if I experience sudden severe tooth pain? 

Rinse your mouth with warm water, floss gently, and contact your dentist immediately for an evaluation and treatment.