When Is a Toothache an Emergency?

arizona_dentistYour tooth hurts and it’s Friday evening. You don’t want to bother your dentist, but if it gets worse, you’ll be calling at midnight. Should you call or not? “Emergencies depend on pain, and everyone experiences pain differently,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix dental office. “One of the ways I handle client’s pain is to give my clients my cell phone number. “ It’s almost unheard of for your dentist to give you a personal cell phone number—how can this help determine if your pain is an emergency?

The secret, according to Dr. Ford, lies in the relationship building she begins the first time a client visits the office. “From the first call, our office builds a relationship with every client,” Dr. Ford says. “By the time I give them my phone number, the patient knows what to look for and I know they will use excellent judgment if they need to call me.” It’s the best call system available—one based on trust and shared information.”

Dr. Ford’s patients use the number when they experience one of the symptoms Dr. Ford tells them to watch for. The patient’s own experience is the best guidance for choosing to declare an emergency. “I can’t remember the last time a patient called when they didn’t need to, “ Dr. Ford says.

What are emergencies that should make you reach for the phone? “Any time there is a dental problem that can cause long-lasting damage or you are in serious pain,” says Dr. Ford. That includes a tooth that is knocked out or breaks, abscesses, or unexpected pain after a procedure.

The online source, Web M.D. adds a list of self-help problems, which include:

Objects stuck in teeth—work it out gently with dental floss. Don’t force it out if it’s firmly wedged, and never use a pin or sharp metal object. You can cut your gum or damage the tooth surface.

Lost filling or crown—call your dentist during office hours, unless there is pain involved. Rinse the crown by holding it by the biting surface and rinsing it under warm running water. Put the sink stopper in first, so if you drop it, it won’t go down the drain.

Toothache or abscess: If your gum is painful to the touch, swollen, or your face is swollen around a sore tooth, call your dentist any time of day. Abscesses are infections that can spread to other parts of your body and need to be stopped quickly.

“Another good reason for seeing your dentist regularly is that your dentist will discuss what’s going on and help you to take care of your teeth before you have an emergency situation,” says the popular Phoenix dentist.

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