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How to Save a Tooth When Unexpected Dental Problems Occur

Nothing is worse than a sudden dental emergency—in the middle of the night or during a holiday or weekend. A chipped tooth, cracked or dislodged tooth, or having a filling or crown fall out can be a terrible experience. Discover ways to handle it calmly and effectively on your own, and instances that require professional help.

woman in dentist chair
Photo by Fotolia.

Chipped Tooth

Any serious trauma requires care by a skilled dentist. But, does a cracked or chipped tooth count? It could. If there’s no pain and the chip is small, it’s up to you to decide if and when the tooth should be repaired. It may not require emergency repair. In fact, unless it’s chipped into the dentin, it’s not likely to become infected, but you should still make an appointment to have it checked out.

Cracked or broken teeth should be examined by a qualified dentist to ensure that no further damage is done. The dentist might seal the tooth or recommend other procedures.

Symptoms of a cracked tooth include hypersensitivity to hot and cold, sensitivity while chewing, and sensitivity to air. Over time, these symptoms may become more pronounced. It’s unusual for a crack in your tooth to be unnoticeable on x-ray, but it is possible.

Knocked Out Tooth

If your tooth is knocked out, you probably need to see a good 24 hour dentist right away. This is an emergency situation. Handle the tooth with care and avoid touching the root of the tooth (the part embedded in the gum). If the tooth is dirty, rinse it off with milk, or a sterile saline solution. Do not run it under tap water or wipe it with a rag or anything abrasive.

Even a soft cloth could damage the microscopic cells that are still alive on the root. Keep the tooth moist, dropping it into a class of milk, if possible. If no milk is available, place the tooth in the mouth between the cheek and gums while someone drives you to the dentist’s office.

If you do hold the tooth in your mouth, take extra care not to swallow it. This is actually a pretty dangerous way to keep a tooth moist because of the choking and swallowing hazard.

Do not try to force the tooth back into the socket. If you can’t get in to see a dentist immediately, try slipping it gently into the socket. Make sure it’s positioned properly, facing the right direction. If you can’t get it in without pressure, stop. Place the tooth in a glass of milk or in saliva until you can get in to see the dentist.

Dislodged Tooth

If your tooth becomes dislodged, you have a few options. This type of injury is normally called an extruded tooth. If the tooth isn’t broken or chipped, and the nerve and blood vessels are still attached, then the tooth can be saved.

Leave the tooth in your mouth, even though it’s partially coming out of the socket. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed. Apply a cold ice pack to help relieve pain or swelling until you can get in to see a professional.

Severe Tooth Pain

If you’re in severe pain, take pain reliever and make an appointment to see your dentist right away. It may not be as serious as you think, but it could be—you never know unless you go in. Food particles stuck in your teeth can become uncomfortable and, at times, very painful. Sometimes this pain is caused by bacteria that have become overgrown, creating an abscess. 

Injured Lips or Gums

Any trauma to the lips, tongue or gums should be attended to right away. Bacteria that get into the bloodstream can cause a bloodstream infection, called sepsis. This is a very serious, possibly life-threatening condition. The soft flesh of the lips and their exposed location make them susceptible to injury. A severe injury may allow normal oral bacteria to get into the bloodstream where they don’t belong.

As soon as you experience trauma, rinse your mouth out with a mouth-rinse containing alcohol. Apply pressure to the cut or laceration and make an appointment to see your doctor.

Mouth Burn

It happens to the best of us. You’re really excited about the pizza you just ordered, and you haven’t eaten all day. When it hits the table, you dig in immediately. Hot cheese, ouch! Your mouth is on fire and you spit it out, but the damage is already done. You feel a little stupid, but you’re otherwise OK.

Then, it begins. You feel a smooth patch form on the roof of your mouth. What started as a mild irritation turns into a nagging pain. You burned your mouth.

Most burns of this type will heal in a few days. Warm salt water rinses after meals will keep the area clean. You probably don’t need to go to the dentist unless your mouth hasn’t healed within a week.


Paul Craig has extensive experience as a dental technician. He enjoys sharing his tooth health insights online through blogging.