Dental Emergency: what to do when there’s no dentist available

A dental emergency can happen at any time. It can be while enjoying lunch or while looking out over the gorgeous view from your vacation home.

You bite down hard on a nut, hear a loud crack, and immediately feel excruciating pain from a broken tooth. Rare? No, it occurs all the time.

A dental emergency can occur at home or in the wilderness without warning and can incapacitate a person in an instant.

“No problem, I’ll get right over to the dentist,” you think.

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Hopefully, that is possible, but not always.

You may live some distance from a dentist, it may be a night or weekend when it is hard to find one, or there may not be any available.

One of the first things that stop during a disaster is dental care.

Major natural disasters, such as earthquakes, fires, or floods, and human disasters, such as terrorism or riots, close dental offices in a second. A state of dental emergency, as seen in Texas recently, or any disruption of the regional power grids.

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And there is no help since dentists can’t operate without electricity.

Hospitals rarely have any dental services, so you could be on your own for hours or days.

Since dental first aid is rarely taught in first aid classes. The present information here intends to help you in a dental emergency situation when no professional dental help is available.

How to prevent a dental emergency

Nothing can ruin a trip like a toothache. Anyone going on a trip, say over a week, should make sure they are current with their dental check-ups. This is good advice for everyone, whether traveling or staying at home.

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A routine visit to the dentist can prevent many painful dental problems. Professional cleanings help prevent gum infections.

Fillings that are starting to fail can be fixed before breaking at an inconvenient time.

A small cavity in a tooth that causes no pain can be easily repaired before it does.

Proper care of teeth is important.

Brush and floss teeth regularly to avoid cavities and gum infections.

This is especially important during a time of crisis, such as a disaster or evacuation.

While brushing is the last thing on your mind, gingivitis or gum infections are more frequent during times of emotional and physical stress.

Especially when coupled with poor oral hygiene.

A toothbrush with toothpaste is always the best way to clean your teeth.

If one is not available or you find yourself in an emergency survival situation, clean your teeth in other ways.

A washcloth or towel can be used to remove the soft, sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that develops on the surface of the teeth.

The end of a thin green twig from a non-poisonous tree or bush can be used.

Chew it until it is soft and fibery and use this end as a brush to clean the teeth and gums.

Even your finger will work if nothing else is available.

First Aid Kit For a Dental Emergency

If you go check any regular first aid kit, chances are you won’t find anything that can help in case of a dental emergency.

A few small, lightweight items available at a drug store or market to add your first aid kit to treat dental emergencies. We recommend the following:

  • Dental floss
  • Soft dental or orthodontic wax
  • Cotton pellets
  • Tempanol or Cavit temporary filling material
  • Oil of cloves (eugenol)
  • Small dental tweezers

When working in the mouth, remember to always wear protective gloves from your first aid kit to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

A Toothache

The inflammation of the nerve can cause a toothache inside a tooth, called the dental pulp.

Decay from a cavity that extends into the pulp can cause a toothache, as can a fracture of the tooth.

If infection occurs in the tooth, it can cause excruciating pain and can spread through the root of the tooth into the jaw causing an abscess.

After a meal, when you pack food into the cavity.

The drainage may be blocked and the pressure will increase in the tooth causing the toothache to become worse until the food you clean it. 

Treatment of a toothache consists of locating the painful tooth. Checking for any obvious cavity or fracture.

Clean out any food with a toothbrush, toothpick, or similar tool.

Then soak a small cotton pellet or, if not available, a small piece of cloth, in a topical anesthetic, such as a eugenol or benzocaine solution.

toothache dental emergency

Tick removing tweezers, or a small instrument like a toothpick is helpful in placing the cotton as it is often hard to get your fingers into the mouth.

This topical anesthetic should give quick relief.

Type of topical

The type of topical anesthetic used is important. Dentists use pure eugenol for emergency treatment of toothaches since it is long-lasting, but this can be difficult to find.

Oil of cloves is the same thing and is available without a prescription at pharmacies and some health food stores.

Be careful, however, as pure oil of cloves can cause chemical burns to the mouth and tongue if it gets off the tooth.

There are commercial toothache medications that contain eugenol, benzocaine, and benzocaine.

Some products include the small dental tweezers and cotton pellets that you will need.

Check with your dentist what brands are best for you.

Once the cotton is in place, cover it with a temporary filling material to prevent it from falling out.

These are all soft, you can mold putty-like materials into the cavity.

If they are not available, you can use soft dental wax. 

If a candle is used, melt some wax and let it cool until it is pliable before placing in the mouth.

You can use pain medication or prescription pain medicines if they are available. Do not place aspirin on the gum next to a painful tooth.

Not only doesn’t it help, it causes a large, painful burn to the gum tissue.

Seek help from a dentist immediately.

If it takes some time to find one, it may be necessary to replace the cotton pellet with another freshly soaked in topical anesthetic.

Gingivitis

fingivitis dental emergency

gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums (gingiva) most commonly due to inadequate tooth brushing.

Gums become red, swollen, and may bleed while brushing the teeth. It is largely preventable with good oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups.

When gingivitis causes pain and bleeding in the field, improve oral hygiene by brushing three times per day, follow it by warm salt-water rinses. Over-the-counter anti-bacterial mouthwashes may also help.

Dental Abscess

An infected tooth or gum infection (gingival infection) can cause a dental abscess, also known as a pus pocket.

Food lodged between the teeth can also do so if not removed with dental floss.

Abscesses are normally located next to the offending tooth and cause pain and swelling.

They can spread beyond the tooth to the face, floor of the mouth, or neck and it may be difficult to open the mouth or swallow.

On rare occasions, dental abscesses can become life-threatening by getting so large that they block breathing or by causing fever or generalized infection throughout the body.

Deal with any abscess immediately.

Antibiotics are required to treat abscesses.

Go to a dentist immediately. If one is not available or if there is severe swelling go to a physician or hospital emergency room.

When dental or medical help is not available and the situation is a dental emergency.

They can give you oral antibiotics, such as penicillin 500 mg every six hours, after making sure the person is not allergic to the medication.

Warm salt-water rinses of the mouth every four hours may help the abscess to spontaneously drain, giving some relief of the pain.

Do not place hot packs on the outside of the face unless your dentist gives you this advice, as heat can spread the infection outward. 

No antibiotics are available, you can find an abscess that is next to a tooth can be drained to remove the pus.

A sterile scalpel, needle, or a fishhook (with the barb removed and disinfected by heating with a match) may be used to puncture the abscess.

It will be painful to do, but there would be immediate relief from the abscess.

Broken filling or lost crown

 

dental emergency

Biting down on candy, nuts, ice cubes, and other hard or sticky foods are common ways to break a tooth or filling.

If the tooth is not painful, be careful not to break it further during eating and see a dentist as soon as possible.

A temporary filling can be placed to prevent the tooth from becoming sensitive to hot or cold and to avoid food from packing into the hole left by the filling.

Place a small amount of a temporary filling material into the hole in the tooth using a dental instrument or a flat tool such as the blade of a knife, popsicle stick, or similar tools.

Have the person bite down on the temporary material to form it to their bite and then have them open their mouth and remove any excess material. It turns into a dental emergency. 

These materials will harden some and remain in place. You can also use soft wax also in the same manner as filling a cavity described above.

These materials will harden some and remain in place. Soft wax also can be used in the same manner as filling.

Crowns (caps) can be pulled off teeth by sticky foods, such as caramel and salt-water taffy.

If the tooth is not sensitive to hot or cold, save the crown and see a dentist as soon as convenient.

If the tooth is so sensitive that it prevents the person from eating, it may be necessary to replace it temporarily.

Do this only if really necessary, as this is only a temporary solution and there is a risk that the crown could come off.

Clean out any dry cement or material from the inside of the crown with a dental instrument or knife.

Place a thin layer of temporary filling material, denture adhesive, or even a thick mixture of water and flour inside the crown.

Making sure the crown is aligned properly on the tooth, have the person gently bite down to seat the crown all the way and see a dentist as soon as possible.

Injuries to teeth

A fall or blow to the mouth can injure teeth, most commonly the upper front teeth.

Teeth may be in a normal position. But loose when touched may be partially out of the socket or push it back.

Unless it is completely knocked out, the first thing you should do is see a dentist.

When one is not available within a reasonable time.

The reposition of a tooth that is out of place may be with steady, gentle pressure to bring it back into proper position.

If it is very loose, gently biting on a piece of gauze can help hold it in place.

chipped tooth dental emergency

A dental emergency can happen at any time. It can be while enjoying lunch or while looking out over the gorgeous view from your vacation home.

When a tooth is completely knocked out, what you do in the first 30 minutes determines whether you can save the tooth.

The ligaments that hold a tooth into the jaw are torn along with the nerve and blood vessels when it is knocked out of its socket and it is essentially a “dead tooth.” This a kind of dental emergency. 

When re-implanted into the tooth socket within 30 minutes the body will usually accept it and the ligaments will reattach.

While it will require a root canal to remove the dead nerve and blood vessels, it will be a functioning tooth.

Over 30 minutes before it is re-implanted and the body treats it like foreign material and slowly dissolves the root over a period of weeks to months.

Often the tooth needs to be extracted.

To treat an avulsed tooth

If the socket is bleeding, have the person bite down on gauze pads placed over the top of the socket. You can also use a moisten non-herbal tea bag.

Check the tooth to make sure it is whole and not broken.

Handling the tooth only by the crown, the part that normally shows in the mouth, clean off any dirt or debris by gently rinsing the tooth with sterile saline, disinfected water, or milk.

It is important that you do not touch the thin, whitish colored layer of soft tissue covering the root.

This is the important layer of periodontal ligament that will allow the tooth to reattach.

Replace the tooth into the tooth socket and with gentle, steady pressure push it into place.

Have the person bite down lightly on a piece of gauze to hold it in place and see a dentist immediately to have the tooth stabilization.

If a tooth cannot be immediately re-implanted, it should be wrapped in gauze.

Soaked in a container of sterile saline solution, milk, or the injured person’s saliva while they are immediately taken to a dentist.

Some recommend keeping the tooth moist by placing it in the victim’s mouth.

This does work, but the tooth can also accidentally be the swallow.

Dental emergencies are more common than most people realize.

While you most often will be able to obtain help from a dentist, there are times when you may be on your own.

Prevention, knowledge, and a few important items in a dental first aid kit can save you and your family during these times.

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