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Your child falls off a swing and knocks out a tooth. Your spouse is having constant pain in his or her mouth, and the gums are starting to swell. You manage to crack a tooth when you inadvertently bite down on a small pebble hidden in your granola…

All of these are events that should be immediately treated by a dentist, to avoid tooth and health problems down the road. But what if you can’t get to a dentist right away?

If a tooth has been knocked out…

Make sure that your hands are clean, and never hold the tooth by the root end.

Rinse the tooth in water, especially the root. Remember, rinse, don’t scrub. Don’t even remove any tissue that might still be clinging to the tooth. If you can get the tooth back in its socket, that would be best. And, of course, make sure the tooth is facing in the right direction when you put it back.

If you can’t put the tooth back, put it in a cup of milk, or water with a pinch of salt. Immediately call your dentist. If you can see the dentist within an hour of having the tooth knocked out, there is a much better chance of the tooth being saved.

If a toothache is the problem…

Try rinsing with warm water first. Floss to remove any food between the teeth (often, this may solve the problem without doing anything further). For swelling, use something cold, like an ice pack, on the cheek. Never use a cold pack on the gums themselves; it could damage the dental tissue.

If there is swelling due to infection, never try to treat the infection on your own; remember that a toothache with swelling can also be a sign of gum disease. Call your dentist right away.

For cracked, chipped or broken teeth…

Save the pieces, if there are any. Rinse your mouth to make sure there aren’t any chips left. If you’re bleeding, press on the wound with a piece of gauze, a paper towel, a clean cloth, or whatever you have handy (a finger will do in a pinch) for about ten minutes or until the bleeding stops.

Avoid swelling by using an ice pack against the cheek or mouth near the injured tooth. Call the dentist, let them know your situation, and get an appointment as soon as possible. Remember, these types of injuries, left untreated, can cause additional damage to other parts of your mouth, or lead infection in the tooth.

Here’s a great little video from Delta Dental that speaks to a classic dental emergency.

Some of us tend to ignore dental problems because we just don’t have the time to fix them, or are worried about the expense. Here are two important notes…

First, if you are delaying calling your dentist because you don’t think they’re available, or you don’t want to inconvenience them, remember that, just like other doctors, dentists factor in time for emergency patients. They know that accidents happen, and they want to be sure their clients are taken care of.

Second, ignoring the situation now might save money in the short term, but damage to your teeth or an infection can lead to other more serious health problems down the road. For example, studies show that people with gum disease have a higher chance of developing heart disease and strokes.

The net-net: If you have a dental emergency, take care of it quickly. You may be saving more than just your teeth.

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