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Dental Emergencies – Doctor or Dentist?

Have you broken or chipped a tooth? Maybe there’s blood pooling in your mouth as the result of a sudden injury. It’s even possible that you just woke up with severe tooth pain. In any case, you need to understand your two options. The first is to book an emergency appointment with your dentist, and the second involves rushing to the emergency room to seek medical help.

Dental emergencies can happen at any time and anywhere. The last thing you want to do when you are experiencing severe pain is to sit in an emergency room for six hours only to be told you need to see a dentist. Likewise, you don’t want to book an emergency dental appointment only to be told you need to go to the nearest ER.

How do you assess a situation to determine if you need a dentist or a doctor? To arrive at an answer, let’s start by defining what a dental emergency is, outline the signs to be on the lookout for, and how these emergencies can differentiate from medical issues.

What is a Dental Emergency? 

A dental emergency is described as an acute oral health ailment that requires immediate attention. It is basically any oral issue that requires the emergency assistance of a dentist or dental specialist (orthodontist, periodontist, etc.). A situation is classified an emergency when treatment needs to be performed to save a tooth, stop bleeding or to manage severe pain.

There isn’t one clear definition of a dental emergency as they can range from broken braces to a loose row of teeth. They can also refer to any trauma involving your mouth or face.

The most common reasons that people book emergency appointments with their dentist include:

  • Severe toothache
    • You should only call after trying an over-the-counter pain medication and applying ice over the general soreness. We recommend avoiding heat since that could make the pain worse. If throbbing lasts for more than two days then you absolutely need to visit your dentist.
  • Lost or loose filling
    • You will want to visit your dentist immediately. In the meantime, use a piece of soft chewing gum to replace the filling. Its adhesiveness will stick to the tooth until you can receive professional help.
  • Broken or chipped tooth
    • Most dentists will want to repair a broken or chipped tooth right away. This could mean you need a crown or, in the more serious cases, a root canal could be required.
  • A tooth falls out
    • If you lose an adult tooth you will want to visit your dentist immediately as there’s a chance it can be put back in. If you take longer than two hours to get the tooth put back in place, then it might not be able to take root.
  • Badly bitten lip or tongue
    • Okay, this might happen to you five times a day and be written off as more annoying than serious. Be careful, though, if the bleeding doesn’t stop then you might need to visit your dentist.
  • Something stuck between teeth
    • If floss can’t dislodge something stuck between your teeth, you should consider making an emergency dental appointment.
  • Soft tissue laceration
    • A cut inside your mouth where the tissue is delicate could lead to hemorrhaging, so you will want to undergo immediate examination.
  • Reversible or irreversible pulpitis
    • This is the inflammation of dental pulp tissue, which contains blood vessels and nerves. It is caused by bacteria infection and the result can be extreme pain and distress. If you believe you have either form of pulpitis, refer to your dentist as they might need to perform a root canal or extraction.
  • Tooth sensitivity
    • If you are experiencing any thermal sensitivity or pain when your mouth is closed then call your dentist.

Most of the above-mentioned injuries and scenarios do not require a trip to the ER. Visit your dentist first to receive treatment and they will recommend a different type of medical care, if necessary. This can include referring you to a specialist like a periodontist or an endodontist.

Regardless of the injury to your mouth, teeth or gums, if the pain is severe or persists then call us at 705-739-6725 to discuss next steps.

Signs that you have a Dental Emergency

Everyone has a different pain threshold. Use these signs to gauge whether you have a dental emergency or not:

  • Constant and throbbing toothache caused by sensitivity or from an abscess or infection.
  • Fractured tooth that is causing a wound in your mouth to form.
  • Bleeding gums could be a sign of a larger issue like infection or disease.
  • A broken or loose crown or filling.
  • A lost tooth.

Even just one of these signs is good reason to head to the dentist or to at least call them for professional advice.

When to Visit the ER

When a person sustains an oral injury, the typical response is to visit a dentist to ensure their jaw, gums or teeth are intact and healthy. They might be better served, though, to head to the ER to be checked out by a medical doctor. You want to make sure you don’t have a fractured or dislocated jaw or any lacerations that could lead to infections. If you have swelling, you will also want to make sure that it won’t impact your breathing if it worsens.

Ultimately, if there’s a chance that your mouth or facial injuries are particularly severe then bypass your dentist and go straight to the ER.  In Barrie, that would be Royal Victoria Regional Hospital, located at ​201 Georgian Drive, ​Level 2 – see this video explaining where to go, or check out this detailed map of the ER. In dire situations where the pain feels uncontrollable, you should call 911 for assistance.

Dental vs. Medical Emergency

With some injuries, it might be tough to decide whether you need a dentist or a doctor. A sinus infection, for instance, could have similar symptoms to a bad toothache. In fact, a sinus infection could even cause a toothache if left untreated. If you are in this situation, it is recommended to first visit a dentist to rule out it being a dental issue.

If your dentist is unavailable and you don’t believe your injury or pain is worth a trip to the ER, then visit the nearest healthcare facility (like a walk-in clinic) to receive treatment.

Always Play It Safe

Georgian Dental® is well equipped to handle all kinds of dental emergencies. We have an emergency contact and have implemented a 24-hour response protocol to make sure our patients are cared for in their time of need. We are here to service the Barrie area regardless of business hours.

It’s not a bad idea to see if you can treat the problem with a topical pain gel or a standard pain relief medication. Keep in mind, that these medications don’t permanently solve the problem. The good news is that they can buy you time until you can visit your dentist.

Dental emergencies can happen, often at the most inconvenient times. if you have a broken or cracked tooth or your mouth is in severe pain, then immediately contact us at (705) 739-6725.

If you are unsure about what to do, then don’t hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your situation. We’re here to help!


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