When is a Toothache an Emergency?

Many people describe the pain of a toothache as the worst pain a person can experience.  Women tell us it is worse than childbirth.  Some toothaches can truly endanger your life.  Because there are different types of toothaches, this blog will aim to help you know when to seek emergency help.

Why Do Toothaches Hurt So Badly?

Teeth are hollow, and the inner chamber contains nerves and blood vessels that provide sensation and nourishment to the tooth.  The nerves are the source of the pain of a toothache when they experience an increase in pressure from the blood vessels that share their space.

The reason the pain is so severe is that the nerves and blood vessels are completely surrounded by hard tooth structure.  This means they are unable to swell outward, so an influx of inflammation results in an extreme increase in pressure.  So an irritant (usually bacterial toxins from a large cavity) produces an inflammatory response from the blood vessels inside the tooth, causing a sharp increase in pressure which stimulates the nerves to signal PAIN!

Which Tooth Problems are NOT an Emergency?

We never encourage anyone to ignore a tooth problem.  This is merely to distinguish between a tooth problem that requires an emergency visit from one that can be scheduled with the dentist at your convenience.  Most dental problems get progressively worse over time, so waiting too long to seek dental care may allow the problem to become an emergency.

The following are symptoms that indicate a non-emergency dental problem:

  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • Sensitivity to sweets
  • Tenderness when you chew on a certain tooth
  • Gums that are sore when you brush and/or floss
  • A small chip or fracture of a tooth that does not cause pain

If you experience any of these problems, you should avoid the triggers that cause pain or discomfort.  You may need to drink room temperature beverages and avoid chewing on one side until you see the dentist.  You should also commit to keeping your teeth as clean as possible while you await your dental appointment.

Which Tooth Problems ARE an Emergency?

There are certain tooth problems that require emergency care.  Please note that if you or a loved one experience any of these, you should either call your dentist for emergency hours or go to an urgent care facility as soon as possible.

  • Any facial swelling from a tooth infection
  • An injury to the face that knocks a tooth completely out of its socket
  • An injury to the face or jaws that dislocates the jaw joint, preventing you from closing your teeth together normally
  • An injury that causes a deep cut or laceration, especially one that will not stop bleeding

It is actually the first one in this list (swelling) that is the most dangerous.  Any swelling in the face, head or neck associated with a tooth infection can spread to vital areas and cause death in the most severe cases.  There are countless cases of tooth infections spreading into the airway, bloodstream or brain and leading to death due to a lack of emergency intervention.

Because the other three involve trauma, most people will already know to seek urgent care.  However, many people misunderstand the serious nature of tooth infections and swelling, thinking it can be put off until a more convenient time.

Another very important thing to understand is that tooth infections can spread without causing any pain at all!  Any swelling, with or without pain, is an emergency situation and should be treated as such.

How to Prepare for Dental Emergencies

The very best thing you can do to prepare for a dental emergency for yourself or a loved one is to establish a good relationship with a local dentist.  At Timberlake Dental, we provide emergency on-call services to patients with whom we have established relationships.

If you have not yet established a consistent relationship with a local dentist, call us at 940-382-1750 today to schedule a new patient evaluation.  We can inform you of any areas of potential tooth problems and help you treat them before they develop into an emergency.

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