What to Do When a Dental Emergency Arises

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
April 6, 2023


Dental emergencies never happen at a convenient time. Panic and stress set in quickly, and it’s important to think on your feet and take appropriate action. Not only do you want to make sure any existing problems don’t get worse, but you’re also likely concerned about how much treatment will cost.

In this blog, we’ll help you determine when something is considered an emergency, what to do and what you can expect to pay based on whether you have insurance. 

What is a dental emergency?

The American Dental Association defines a dental emergency as anything “potentially life-threatening and requiring immediate treatment to stop ongoing tissue bleeding or to alleviate severe pain or infection.”

This can include situations like:

  • An injury to the face or mouth that causes one or more teeth to fall out or loosen significantly, trauma to facial bones or a swollen jaw
  • Excessive bleeding from teeth or gums
  • Severe pain
  • Exposed nerves
  • Trouble breathing

What is non-emergency dental care?

Most oral health care is considered non-emergency. This includes:

  • Regular cleanings and preventative care
  • Non-urgent tooth extractions
  • Restorative treatments for asymptomatic issues
  • Orthodontic procedures like braces and other tooth aligners
  • Cosmetic and other elective treatment


Other conditions—like a dull toothache, a lost filling, food deeply lodged between teeth or a small crack or chip—should lead you to call your dentist and seek treatment as soon as possible but aren’t considered an emergency. 

When to go to the hospital vs. when to go to the dentist

When a dental emergency occurs, it’s important to understand when to go to a dental office and when to go straight to the emergency room (ER). In most cases, we recommend going to your dentist or an emergency dental office right away.

If you’re unable to find an emergency dentist or are experiencing severe symptoms, don’t take any chances and go to the ER. But, keep in mind that ER nurses and doctors are typically only equipped to treat certain dental issues, like bacterial infections, bleeding gums and dental fractures. They can also help to manage pain with certain antibiotics. 

Tips for common dental emergencies

Knocked-out tooth

  1. Save the tooth
  2. If possible, put the tooth back in the socket 
  3. If the tooth won’t stay in the socket, keep it moist in a cup of milk
  4. Go to the dentist right away

Cracked tooth

  1. Rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the area
  2. Use a cold compress to reduce facial swelling
  3. Call your dentist to set up an appointment ASAP

Food stuck in teeth

  1. Floss gently to try and remove the morsel
  2. Go to the dentist if brushing and flossing aren’t effective
  3. DO NOT use sharp instruments to remove food lodged between teeth — you could cause more harm

Dental emergencies in children

Most of the time, dental emergencies can be treated the same way for children as they are for adults, like in the case of an adult tooth being severely cracked or knocked out.

If your child is experiencing a toothache, rinse out their mouth to keep it clean and floss between all teeth. Avoid applying aspirin to the area. If the pain continues, contact your dentist. 

Preventing dental emergencies

Accidents happen and at times are unavoidable, but there are steps to take to reduce the likelihood of a dental emergency:

  • Take good care of your teeth at home
  • Attend regular dental appointments
  • Wear a mouthguard while playing sports  
  • Don’t chew ice, hard candy and other things that can crack teeth
  • Don’t use teeth as a device for opening or cutting things
  • Don’t run around with objects in your mouth
  • Block staircases and dangerous areas from children

Does health insurance cover dental emergencies?

General medical insurance only covers dental emergencies if you’ve sustained other injuries or have a medical condition that affects your oral health. Your visit has to be deemed medically necessary to qualify for coverage. 

Dental insurance helps to cover some of the costs of emergency dentistry.

Dental emergencies with no insurance

If you don’t have insurance, you can anticipate a bill up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. The cost will depend on how severe the condition is, the treatment required and where you live. 

But don’t let cost lead you to avoid getting the care you need. Dental emergencies don’t go away on their own; the longer you wait to see your dentist, the worse it will become and the more expensive it will be to treat.

No-wait dental insurance — get immediate coverage

Spirit Dental & Vision offers dental insurance with no waiting period. Be prepared in case of an emergency by enrolling in a plan today. 

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