It’s Murphy’s Law: You’re more likely to get a toothache or break a filling on a holiday, a weekend, or in the middle of the night, when your dentist is unavailable. No, that’s not true… but it can feel that way! When you have a dental emergency during the week, it’s generally simple to get in to see your dentist, but a painful dental problem at a time when the office is closed is a much more stressful event, so it only seems to happen more often. If you get caught in this situation, there are a few things you can do to make yourself temporarily more comfortable until you can make an appointment to see your dentist for a permanent fix.
If you normally take a particular over-the-counter medication for a headache, you can safely take it for a toothache, too. If not, stop into your pharmacy to find out which OTC medication you can take. It’s particularly important to ask first if you take any prescription medications, because some might interact with the most common painkillers, which are ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Also, if you have a health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, it’s best to check first before taking any medications not specifically cleared by your doctor.
Did you break part of a filling or have a crown pop out? You can perform a temporary fix by checking out the dental care aisle of your local drugstore or even some grocery stores. Look for a temporary dental filling material; one brand is Dentemp, but there might be others at your particular store. The material is soft and pliable, so all you need to do is clean off the tooth and stick a piece of it in the hole left behind. Once you bite down, the filling will mold to the right shape and will harden over time. Remove any extra material before it hardens. You can also use Dentemp and similar filling materials as a temporary glue to place a crown back in your mouth. One caveat: Make an appointment with your dentist to have the temporary material removed and the tooth fixed permanently as soon as possible. A DIY filling is not something to keep in your tooth over the long term!
Most dental emergencies are just uncomfortable and inconvenient. If you are in severe pain, however, or if your jaw is swollen and/or you have a fever and other symptoms of a serious infection, it’s not the time for do-it-yourself treatment. Call your dentist and see what he or she suggests. If your dentist is away, there should be someone covering emergencies. If you can’t get ahold of your dentist and you think the situation warrants it, you can even go to the emergency room. Note that an ER doctor will not be able to replace a filling or perform a root canal, but you will be able to get antibiotics if you need them.
Sometimes, you can avoid dental emergencies by keeping up with your routine dental care. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss before bed. Keep your twice-yearly dental checkups and cleanings. Catching problems when they first start can help you avoid a dental emergency later. If you do end up with a toothache in the middle of the night, call the dentist even if it goes away with an over-the-counter painkiller; the next time, it might not go away so easily.
Creative Commons image by 囧斯基