Emergency Information

Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving or losing a tooth – and it only takes a few minutes to learn the basics.  The tips inside can help you cope with a dental emergency quickly and calmly.

  Toothache     Bitten Tongue or Lip
  Problems with Braces and Retainers     Objects Caught Between Teeth
  Knocked-Out Tooth     Possible Broken Jaw
  Broken Tooth     Sensitive Teeth



Rinse the mouth with warm water to clean it out.  Use dental floss to remove any food that might be trapped between the teeth.  Do not place aspirin on the aching tooth or gum tissues.  See your dentist as soon as possible.

Problems with Braces and Retainers

If a wire is causing irritation, cover the end with a small cotton ball, beeswax or a piece of gauze, until you can get to the dentist.  If a wire gets stuck in the cheek, tongue or gum tissue, do not attempt to remove it.  Go to your dentist immediately.  If an appliance becomes loose or a piece of it breaks off, take the appliance and the piece and go to the dentist.

Knocked-Out Tooth

If the tooth is dirty, rinse it gently in running water.  Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments.  Gently insert and hold the tooth in its socket.  If this is not possible, place the tooth in a cup of milk, or when milk is not available, in a cup of cool water.  Go immediately to your dentist (within 30 minutes if possible).  Don’t forget to bring the tooth!

Broken Tooth

Gently clean dirt from the injured area with warm water.  Place cold compresses on the face, in the area of the injured tooth, to decrease swelling.  Go to the dentist immediately. 

Bitten Tongue or Lip

Apply direct pressure to the bleeding area with a clean cloth.  If swelling is present, apply cold compresses.  If bleeding does not stop, go to a hospital emergency room.

Objects Caught Between Teeth

Try to remove the object with floss.  Guide the floss carefully to avoid cutting the gums.  If you’re not successful in removing the object, go to the dentist.  Do not try to remove the object with a sharp or pointed instrument.

Possible Broken Jaw

Do not move the jaw.  Secure the jaw in place by tying a handkerchief, necktie, or towel around the jaw and over the top of the head.  If swelling is present, apply cold compresses.  Go immediately to a hospital emergency room, or call your dentist.

Sensitive Teeth

Do you have sensitive teeth?
If your teeth become sensitive to brushing, flossing, heat, cold or certain foods, the discomfort can interfere with our enjoyment of daily activities.  You may have a common problem called dentin hypersensitivity, or “sensitive” teeth.

Before treating you for sensitive teeth, however, your dentist will first make sure there are no underlying dental problems causing the discomfort such as a cavity, tooth grinding, or a dying or fractured tooth.


Causes of sensitivity

Teeth become sensitive when the dentin (the tooth layer covered by enamel under the crown and by cementum under the root) becomes exposed.  The microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes) found in dentin are then exposed allowing sensations of heat and cold or acidic foods to stimulate the nerves and cells within the tooth.  This causes hypersensitivity (excessive sensitivity).

Cementum may become exposed when gums recede due to age or gum disease.  The result can be hypersensitivity near the gumline.  Vigorous tooth brushing at the gum margin or tooth grinding can also cause the enamel to thin, exposing the cementum.


Hypersensitivity can be treated.  Your dentist may recommend an approach that can be tried at home, such as desensitizing toothpastes.  These toothpastes are often helpful.  They contain compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve.  Desensitizing toothpastes, which usually contain strontium chloride or potassium nitrate, may require numerous applications before sensitivity is reduced.  These products will either seal the exposed tubule openings or reduce the ability of the nerves to transmit pain.  When choosing dental products, look for those that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Your dentist may try some in-office techniques if desensitizing toothpastes are not helpful.  Fluoride treatments may be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth.  The fluoride binds to the tooth and reduces the transmission of sensations through it.  Fluoride strengthens the enamel by helping the damaged tooth to re-mineralize.  Another agent that blocks the transmission of sensations is called oxalate. Accepted strontium chloride gels may also be topically applied to the teeth.

Another option is for your dentist to seal the sensitive areas with one of a number of dental materials.  A sealant (a plastic material that’s painted onto the teeth) or resin (a tooth-colored restorative material) may be tried.  If the sensitivity is a result of gum recession, your dentist may use materials (called dentin bonding agents) which are made to bond directly to the tooth root.