Most of us know to call an ambulance in an emergency, but when it comes to our mouths, well, what is a real emergency and what do we do?
“Mouths are tricky because they’re complex and the natural bacteria in our mouths multiplies so quickly that tooth and gum problems can go from minor annoyance to major problem really fast,” says Austin Dentist Samantha Hollinger, DMD.
But not every ache is an emergency, so we asked Dr. Hollinger how to decide what needs attention as soon as possible.
“Two-day” rule for injury pain: “You can bonk your teeth pretty good, but if you only have mild pain, I recommend waiting for two days,” says Dr. Hollinger. “If it goes away in two days, you’re most likely fine. But if it doesn’t, or if the pain is so bad that you can’t sleep or chew on that tooth, you should go to your dentist right away.
Toothache (non-injury pain): If you start to feel a lot of pain in your mouth and you haven’t had an injury, don’t wait. This is one of those times you have to remember all that bacteria. “Unfortunately, people try to wait it out until it gets better, but infection can turn a simple cavity into an abscessed tooth, and it can even eat away at the bone that holds it in,” says Dr. Hollinger. “By waiting, you’re making it more painful and more expensive to treat.”
Gum swelling or pain: “Gum disease” has an innocent, bad-breath sound to it, but gum swelling or pain can signal an abscess or infection. A serious gum infection can not only damage your gums but, left untreated, it can lead to tooth loss, it can increase your risk of heart and lung diseases, and it can eat away at and destroy the jawbone. If your gums are sore or you notice swelling or bleeding, it’s time to see your dentist.
“It can get really nasty if you have a lot of plaque built up and festering bacteria,” says Dr. Hollinger. “I mostly see this in young people whose parents never took them to the dentist.”
Chips and cracks: As soon as you notice a chip or a crack in a tooth, get to the dentist so they can see whether the damage is only to the enamel (outer “shell” of the tooth) or if it has penetrated the softer inner pulp that contains nerves and blood vessels.
“I think of my own family, the kids and cousins playing, maybe a little roughhousing, and someone chips a tooth,” says Dr. Hollinger. “We want to check it out and even if it doesn’t need any kind of treatment, we like to monitor cracks and chips to make sure they’re not causing damage to the root.”
Stuff that doesn’t go away: Sores, itching, numbness, and burning can be symptoms of oral cancer, among other things. If you have a red spot with a white border that doesn’t go away, a bleeding sore that doesn’t heal, or a lump or hard spot, call your dentist now. It could be as benign as a canker sore or a fungal infection, but it could also be a symptom of oral cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S.
No, we’re not going to recommend any do-it-yourself home remedies, but we know pain has no respect for the calendar or the clock. Until your dentist appointment, here are a few ways you can reduce your symptoms:
Clove oil for pain—It’s the active ingredient in over-the-counter pain medications like Anbesol. Dr. Hollinger recommends mixing clove oil with a little coconut oil and swishing it in your mouth. “It won’t last all day, but it will give you a little relief,” she says.
Ibuprofen for pain—(Brand name Advil) is one of the best ways to reduce tooth pain. Dr. Hollinger recommends 800 milligrams (equivalent to four tablets) if the lower doses don’t bring relief.
Antiseptics for gum pain/bleeding—Anything you use to clean a wound can be used as a mouth rinse to help fight infection, such as alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or warm salt water.
Temporary crown paste—If a crown falls off, you can “glue” it back on using a simple paste of flour mixed with water. This will get you by and avoid some embarrassment from the missing tooth until you get to the dentist.
Contact TRU Dentistry Austin today to schedule a consultation. Your dental health starts here. And now through the end of the year, we’re offering new patient specials to help you achieve a healthy, beautiful smile! Book your appointment today and experience the TRU difference!