How To Handle Common Dental Emergencies?


A dental emergency is a problem of the teeth that causes pain, bleeding, infection, or trauma that interferes with your daily life.1 Common dental emergencies are caused by improper oral hygiene, lifestyle, and accidents. It is important to recognise their symptoms and take appropriate action.  We will explore the most common dental emergencies and how to manage them.

Common dental emergencies and their symptoms


Toothache is one of the most common dental emergencies, and some of the causes include tooth decay and grinding or clenching teeth. Tooth pain is a symptom and may be accompanied by swelling and headaches. The pain may be sharp or throbbing. Sometimes the pain is only felt when pressure is applied to the tooth, for example, when eating.2 Consult a dentist when you have a toothache accompanied by mouth, neck, or eye pain.

Broken or chipped tooth

A broken or chipped tooth often happens accidentally, from biting hard food or hitting the face after falling over. In most cases, the break or chip is not too serious and can be repaired easily by a dentist; however, in more serious cases, the nerves inside the teeth may become exposed. A broken or chipped tooth may cause toothache, and swelling around the damaged tooth is common. Additionally, temperature changes may increase sensitivity in the damaged denture.1,3

Knocked-out tooth

Similarly to broken or chipped teeth, knocked-out teeth are generally caused by accidents involving contact with the face. When a tooth is knocked out, the blood vessels and nerves within the tooth and surrounding gums are also damaged. There may be some bleeding within the mouth, usually from the socket the tooth was knocked from, and the face may swell.4 The tooth may be replaced with a dental implant.

Lost filling or crown

Fillings and crowns may fall out over time, and it usually occurs because eating hard and sticky foods loosen the filling, and the saliva in the mouth begins to break down the adhesive's bond, exposing some of the nerves and tissues in the tooth. A filling or crown falling out can also be caused by tooth decay. The symptoms usually include discomfort, pain when eating, and tooth sensitivity.

Object stuck between teeth

Small pieces of food are the most common objects to get stuck between teeth. Feeling pain when food is stuck between teeth is unusual, but tightness may be experienced. However, if food becomes stuck between teeth much more frequently, it could be a sign of gum disease where the gums recede, allowing more room for food to be lodged between teeth. Leftover food particles in the teeth are a potential source of infection and may lead to complications.5

Abscessed tooth

A dental abscess occurs when there is a buildup of pus within the tooth. An abscessed tooth is typically caused by an infection; sometimes, a tooth not growing out of the gums properly, tooth decay, or a mouth injury can also cause it. The symptoms of an abscessed tooth often include toothache, difficulty in eating and moving the jaw, and a bad taste in the mouth.3

Jaw injury

The jaw may be broken or dislocated by accident or trauma, a dental procedure, or yawning. The severity of the jaw injury, and therefore the symptoms, depend greatly on the size and cause of the damage to the jaw. 

Treatment of jaw injuries includes surgery and holding the upper and lower jaws in place with a wire to prevent movement for a few weeks; a patient may undergo tooth extraction before treatment.6 It is crucial to visit your dental office immediately to avoid complications

How to handle common dental emergencies?

While waiting to see your dentist, the following are things you can do to manage the pain or the situation.


  • Rinse mouth with warm salty water
  • Remove any food particles with dental floss
  • Apply a cold compress to your cheek
  • Take pain relievers as directed

Broken or chipped tooth

  • Rinse your mouth with warm water
  • Apply a cold compress to your cheek
  • Save any broken tooth pieces in milk or saliva of the person whose tooth is chipped or broken 
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible

Knocked-out tooth

  • Pick up the tooth by the crown and rinse it with water
  • Try reinserting the tooth into its socket; if it fails, keep the tooth moist in milk or saliva
  • Visit a dentist immediately

Lost filling or crown

  • Save any filling or crown pieces
  • Don't bite down on the affected tooth 
  • Consult your dentist as soon as possible for repairs

Object stuck between teeth

  • Use dental floss to try to remove the object
  • Do not use sharp objects or force
  • See a dentist if you cannot remove the object

Abscessed tooth

  • Rinse your mouth with warm saltwater
  • Apply a cold compress to your cheek
  • Take pain relievers as directed
  • Seek medical aid immediately

Jaw injury

  • Put a cold compress on the affected area
  • Visit the emergency room immediately 

Prevention of dental emergencies

These are some recommendations by the National Health Service (NHS) to prevent dental emergencies by keeping your teeth clean and caring for your gums to prevent tooth infection and gum disease.

Maintaining good oral hygiene

In maintaining good oral hygiene, it is important to try to get into a routine. Brushing the teeth with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice a day while ensuring that all of the surfaces of the teeth are brushed, particularly the surfaces that make the most contact with food. You can also floss or use an interdental brush to remove any stuck pieces of food daily. Mouthwash can be used to clean the teeth; however, it should not be done immediately after brushing the teeth as it washes away any leftover fluoride. Mouthwash is recommended after eating lunch, and if the mouthwash contains fluoride, avoid drinking or eating for at least 30 minutes.    

Wearing mouthguards during sports

Wearing a mouthguard during sports, whether an actual event or practice, can protect the teeth and reduce the likelihood of damaging them when contact is made with the face. 

Avoiding hard and sticky foods

Hard foods, such as certain sweets, can cause broken or chipped teeth and losing the fillings or crowns in the teeth. Sticky foods can be difficult to remove from the teeth and get stuck between teeth easily, causing difficulty when cleaning the teeth. 

Regular dental check-ups

It is crucial to have regular dental check-ups as these can be crucial to catching any dental problems early on, allowing for them to be dealt with quickly and preventing any further damage. If these problems aren't caught in their earlier stages, they can become more problematic, difficult, or even impossible to repair. 

Fixing dental issues promptly

Ensuring dental issues are fixed quickly means that the problems don't have a chance to get worse and cause lasting damage to the teeth or gums.  


The most common dental emergencies are often the easiest to spot and treat; some can even be treated at home. Knowing how to spot the differences in symptoms can help make management quicker and easier and prevent damage. It is important to recognise when a dental emergency cannot be treated at home and to contact your dentist. Overall, preventive dentistry, i.e., taking care of your teeth and gums, minimises your chances of having preventable dental emergencies.


  1. Loureiro RM, Naves EA, Zanello RF, Sumi DV, Gomes RLE, Daniel MM. Dental emergencies: a practical guide. RadioGraphics [Internet]. 2019 Oct [cited 2024 Jan 3];39(6):1782–95. Available from:
  2. Koh SWC, Li CF, Loh JSP, Wong ML, Loh VWK. Managing tooth pain in general practice. Singapore Med J [Internet]. 2019 May [cited 2024 Jan 3];60(5):224–8. Available from:
  3. Banerji S, Mehta SB, Millar BJ. The management of cracked tooth syndrome in dental practice. Br Dent J [Internet]. 2017 May [cited 2024 Jan 3];222(9):659–66. Available from:
  4. Day PF, Duggal M, Nazzal H. Interventions for treating traumatised permanent front teeth: avulsed (Knocked out) and replanted. Cochrane Oral Health Group, editor. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet]. 2019 Feb 5 [cited 2024 Jan 3];2019(2). Available from:
  5. Passi S, Sharma N. Unusual foreign bodies in the orofacial region. Case Reports in Dentistry [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2024 Jan 3];2012:1–4. Available from:
  6. Pickrell B, Serebrakian A, Maricevich R. Mandible fractures. Seminars in Plastic Surgery [Internet]. 2017 May 9 [cited 2024 Jan 3];31(02):100–7. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Chimezirim Ozonyiri

Bachelor of Science - BS, Microbiology, General, Tansian University, Nigeria

Chimezirim has several years of experience in the healthcare, non-profit, and education sectors. She is passionate about health promotion and began her journey into health and lifestyle writing over two years ago.

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