Skip to main content

What to do in a dental emergency

Posted on March 28, 2024 in Healthy You

Man with ice pack on his jaw.

Toothaches, chipped teeth and lost fillings — dental emergencies can strike at the most inconvenient times, leaving you unsure and worried. But knowing what to do can make a big difference in dealing with the situation the right way and reducing any potential damage. Here, we'll review common dental emergencies and your options to get the care you need.

What Is a dental emergency?

Not every dental issue needs immediate attention from a dentist. Here are some examples of true oral health emergencies:

  • Excessive bleeding: Uncontrollable bleeding after having a tooth removed (from injury or after mouth surgery) needs immediate attention.
  • Knocked-out tooth: A permanent tooth that has been knocked out requires urgent attention from a dentist.
  • Broken jaw: Jaw injuries need immediate medical attention due to potential nerve damage.
  • Tooth infections: Signs of tooth infection include swelling, severe pain and fever, and you should be seen by a dentist as soon as possible to help prevent the infection from spreading.

What to do during a dental emergency

  • Know when to go to the emergency room: If you're experiencing severe pain, excessive bleeding that won’t stop or are struggling to breathe, go to the emergency room or call 911. These are potentially life-threatening situations.
  • Manage non-severe pain and bleeding: For moderate pain, try over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. For bleeding, apply gentle pressure to the bleeding area with a clean gauze pad or cloth.
  • Take care of your knocked-out tooth: Carefully pick up the tooth by the crown (the white part of the tooth that is visible above the gumline), rinse it with water or milk, and try to gently reinsert it in the socket (for adults only; do not reinsert a child tooth). If that's not possible, store the tooth in a cup of milk and head straight to the dentist.
  • Contact your dentist or book a teledentistry visit: Even if the emergency seems minor, call your dentist as soon as possible. They can assess the situation and schedule an emergency appointment to address the issue and prevent further complications. If your dentist is unavailable, you can also book a teledentistry visit. All Delta Dental of Iowa members have access to our teledentistry benefit, which offers you the ability to chat with a dental professional via video chat about your issue and get professional guidance on what you should do. 

Tips to ease anxiety during a dental emergency

  • Do not wait for severe tooth pain to subside. Early treatment has a higher rate of success.
  • Keep your dentist's emergency contact information readily available. Also, keep Delta Dental of Iowa’s teledentistry information handy.
  • Put together a dental emergency kit containing gauze pads, pain relievers and a small container for a knocked-out tooth.

By being prepared, you can face a dental emergency with confidence and keep your oral health protected.


National Library of Medicine 

National Health Scotland 

Delta Dental of Iowa