What is a Dental Emergency and How To Find an Emergency Dentist?

Updated: Jul 19



When you’re in pain anything can seem like an emergency.


A simple slice on the thumb can quickly turn into amputation paranoia.


Sounds ridiculous but the facts are, people, run to the hospital over minor injuries or mild symptoms all of the time.


It’s not to say your pain isn't legitimate but often, there are other routes to take. Routes that eliminate wait lines, resources, and your own time.


If you’re in pain, your body wants to rectify the problem as quickly as possible. Aka the fight or flight response. But, taking a second to analyze the situation can be beneficial.


With dental emergencies, in particular, you could end up waiting three hours at a hospital when a quick visit to your nearby dentist could have sufficed.


So, what are dental emergencies and how do you find an emergency dentist?


Dental Emergencies vs Urgent Care

Typically, emergency and urgent care are used interchangeably, with the exception that; Dental Associations have been given guidelines regarding what qualifies as a dental emergency or conditions requiring urgent care.


EMERGENCIES

Dental emergencies, according to the Canadian Dental Association, “are potentially life threatening and require immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding or to alleviate severe pain or infection.”


Conditions include:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding (from a previous treatment, being physically hit, etc.).

  • Cellulitis or a diffuse soft tissue bacterial infection with intraoral or extraoral swelling that potentially compromises the patient’s airway (example: oral infection).

  • Trauma involving facial bones that potentially compromises the patient’s airway (example: Jaw fractures and dislocations).

URGENT CARE

As part of the emergency guidance, the Association added urgent dental care which “focuses on the management of conditions that require immediate attention to relieve severe pain and/or risk of infection and to alleviate the burden on hospital emergency departments.”


Examples of urgent dental care treatments, which should be treated as minimally invasively as possible, include:

  • Severe dental pain from pulpal inflammation.

  • Pericoronitis or third-molar pain.

  • Surgical postoperative osteitis or dry socket dressing changes.

  • Abscess or localized bacterial infection resulting in localized pain and swelling.

  • Tooth fracture resulting in pain or causing soft tissue trauma.

  • Dental trauma with avulsion/luxation.

  • Dental treatment cementation if the temporary restoration is lost, broken or causing gingival irritation.

Urgent care and dental emergency situations can sound a bit similar. In most cases, the term emergency is used for urgent care cases. So, it can get a bit confusing.


For the legitimate term of emergency dentistry; if it’s life-threatening you must go to the E.R. If a life isn't threatened, then it’s an urgent care circumstance.


An emergency dentist wearing a face mask working on a dental treatment for a patient laying in a dental chair

Can’t see an Emergency Dentist? Try these Dental Tips

Unfortunately, most dental clinics aren’t open 24/7 and you could be waiting a few hours for your emergency or urgent-care appointment.


For most urgent-care situations, there are at-home treatments and tips to lessen the pain.


Toothaches

They’re brutal. They’re annoying. They’re not the end of the world though.

If you’re experiencing tooth pain try:

  • Gargling with salt water to eliminate bacteria

  • Ice the pain with a frozen ice pack or frozen fruit. Heat will not help.

  • Use over-the-counter pain medicine, like Tylenol. If you have never used pain medication, ask your doctor first.

  • Drink water and eat soft foods. Chew on the opposite side of the toothache.

Lost Cavity Filing

Usually, this only happens when there is decaying underneath the filing, which loosens its fit. This can cause a lot of pain since your tooth tissue is exposed to temperature, pressure, and air. To reduce the pain:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medication (ask your doctor first, if you have never taken it before)

  • Put a soft piece of sugarless gum in the spot of the filling. It will protect it until you can see a dentist.

  • Keep your mouth as clean as possible until you can see a dental emergency dentist.

Knocked-Out Tooth

If this is an adult tooth and if you act fast, the root might take again. Follow these steps closely:

  • Make sure the tooth is clean.

  • Put the tooth back into your mouth, in the exact same socket, within 10 minutes.

  • Call a nearby dentist.

You might not be able to put the tooth back into the socket or you might be a bit scared of choking on it. In either of those cases, you can put the tooth in a glass of cold milk.


No matter, if your tooth has been out of your mouth or milk for over an hour, this reduces your chances greatly. Act as fast as possible.

Young woman, outside, holding her mouth because of pain due to a dental emergency

At-Home Dental Emergency Kit

Not all dentists are emergency dentists and not all dental clinics are open 24/7 for emergency appointments.


For dental emergencies in Winnipeg, LifeSmiles Dental Corp’s emergency dentists are always prepared to take on last-minute crisis appointments.


Our clinic has extended evening hours, but we’re not open 24/7.


You might be in a crunch if your crisis happens in the late evening, if your emergency dentist isn't available, or if you’re camping/out of city limits.


In that case, you’ll want to have an emergency dental kit ready.


We suggest carrying these six products in your emergency kit:


Latex or Nitrile Gloves

Latex or nitrile gloves are essential for any emergency kit.


Whether it’s a mouth, open wound, or infection, you don’t want your dirty hands getting all up in that and you don’t want that mouth/wound/infection all up in you.


Latex is typically used in the healthcare industry as it protects against bacteria better than Nitrile.


Although, latex allergies are pretty common so some people choose Nitrile.


Salt

For urgent-care dental situations, rinsing your mouth with salt water is recommended a lot. Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all swore by this home remedy.


Salt water heals infections by using the osmosis process.


The short version; through osmosis, salt water can suck the water out of bacteria. The long version of salt water/osmosis can be read here.


Clove Oil

Clove oil contains a chemical called eugenol; eugenol is an essential oil component that is used majorly in dentistry.


Eugenol is effective at reducing pain, inflammation, and infection according to studies.


On occasions when your emergency dentist isn't available, clove oil is a great tool to treat oral pain.


All you have to do is dip a cotton swap in clove oil and rub it on the affected area.


It is best diluted; add two to three drops to a neutral carrier oil, such as olive oil or canola oil.


You might feel a warming sensation, but the area should become slightly numb within 10 minutes.


Cotton Balls, Gauze Pads, and Q-tips

Granted that you read the clove oil section, you can guess why cotton balls/gauze pads/q-tips are important.


Same with the gloves, it helps with hygiene. It’s also a more practical and precise way of applying treatments.


Tea Bags

Out of gauze? Grab some tea bags.


Green or black tea contains polyphenol compounds and tannins that have antioxidant properties.


These tannins can be significantly effective in stopping the bleeding of sockets caused by tooth extractions and reducing oozing.


Steep a tea bag, let it cool, place it on the affected area, bite down, and you’re good to go.


Dental Elevator Tool

The dental elevator tool can loosen teeth or help remove impacted teeth.


These should only be used in extreme emergencies and we always suggest seeing an emergency dentist for teeth extractions.


They’re still recommended for emergency dental kits because well if the end of the universe is near or you’re miles away from a dental clinic, they could be useful.


Finding an Emergency Dentist

LifeSmiles Dental Corp is not an emergency service, but we probably see more emergencies than anyone else in Central Winnipeg.


We’re a popular emergency option because several dentists are on-site at once, we have multiple locations across Manitoba, and our clinics offer extended operating hours.


On any given day, you have the best chance of seeing an emergency dentist at our clinic.

Interior of LifeSmiles Dental clinic in Grant Park, Winnipeg