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Your 911 Guide to Dental First Aid

Dental emergencies can occur at any time without warning. You could be sitting at home, out walking your dog or camping in the wilderness. A dentist could be right around the corner or a three-day hike away.

Since dental emergencies can be extremely painful and result in permanent damage to the teeth and gums, it is a good idea for you to prepare yourself. Knowing what to do — and what not to do — during a dental emergency could mean the difference between losing and saving a tooth and help prevent pain and costly repairs.

Since dental first aid is rarely taught in first-aid classes and most first-aid kits do not include basic dental supplies, it is a good idea for you to prepare yourself now. But remember, though you may be ready to deal with the worst on your own, it is still important to seek professional dental care as soon as possible after a dental emergency.

Preparing Your Dental First-Aid Kit

The key to preventing most dental emergencies is the same as the key to maintaining good oral health: See your dentist regularly. Dentists can spot dental problems before they become emergencies and are your best resource for all questions you have related to your oral health.

That being said, there is no way for you to predict when a dental emergency will occur, so it is a good idea to have the following on hand in your first-aid kit, especially if you know that there won’t be an emergency dentist nearby:

  • Dental floss
  • Soft dental or orthodontic wax
  • Cotton pellets
  • Temporary tooth filling material such as Tempanol® or Cavit®
  • Clove oil (a natural pain reliever)
  • Small dental tweezers
  • Dental mirror

Remember, it is important to wear protective gloves when working in the mouth to prevent infection and the spread of infectious diseases.


Toothaches are the result of an inflammation of the nerves inside the teeth. This can be caused by tooth decay from a dental cavity extending into the tooth pulp — the soft center of the tooth where nerves are located — or a fracture. If the pulp becomes infected it can cause extreme pain and serious complications if left untreated.

Pain may be centered in one tooth or a number of teeth and may begin as a dull, intermittent ache, or increased sensitivity to temperature or pressure. As it progresses, the pain may increase and become incapacitating.

You should contact a dentist as soon as possible if you develop a toothache, but there are some “toothache remedies” you can try at home to limit pain and inflammation.

First, locate the painful tooth and check for any visible cavities or fractures. Clean the tooth as best as possible to remove food and debris. Soak a small cotton pellet or small piece of cloth in a topical anesthetic such as clove oil or a product specially formulated for oral use. Using tweezers, place the cotton into the dental cavity or crevice. Be carful to avoid contact with the gums, tongue and cheek to prevent chemical burns.

Cover the cotton with temporary dental filling material to hold it in place. This should provide quick relief for most toothaches. It may be necessary to repeat the process with a new dose of anesthetic before you are able to see a dentist.

A pain medication can also be taken, if available. Do not place aspirin on the gums next to the painful tooth as this will only create a painful burn and will not relieve pain.

Gum Inflammation

Gum inflammation is often caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Gums can become red and swollen, and may bleed when teeth are brushed. To help alleviate discomfort, try brushing three times a day and rinsing with warm salt water or antibacterial mouthwash. Oral pain medication or anti-inflammatory medication can also be taken. Keep in mind that gum inflammation and bleeding gums may be a sign of gingivitis, so be sure to visit your dentist for a proper diagnosis.

Tooth Injuries and Traumas

Impact due to a fall or blow may cause a tooth to become loose, shift its position or fall out. It is a good idea to see a dentist as soon as this happens so he or she can evaluate the knocked out tooth and reposition or splint it if necessary. But there are a few things you can do to maximize recovery.

A tooth that has shifted out of place can be repositioned with steady, gentle pressure. If the tooth is very loose, gently biting on a piece of gauze can help hold it in place until you get to a dentist.

If your tooth gets completely knocked out, what you do in the 30 minutes after will determine whether the tooth can be saved. When the ligaments that hold the tooth in place are torn, the tooth dies. If the tooth is re-implanted in its socket within 30 minutes of its removal, the ligaments are usually able to reattach. The tooth may still require a root canal to remove dead nerve tissue, but it will function like a normal tooth.

If possible, find the lost tooth and go to the dentist as soon as possible. Check the tooth to make sure that it is whole and unbroken. Be sure to touch only the crown of the tooth — the part that normally shows in the mouth — and not the thin, white layer of soft tissue covering the root. Clean any dirt and debris off the tooth by rinsing it with sterile saline solution, disinfected water or milk.

Replace the tooth in the tooth socket using steady, gentle pressure and bite down lightly on a piece of gauze to hold it in place. See a dentist immediately to have the tooth stabilized.

If the tooth cannot be immediately implanted, it should be transported carefully in a container of saline solution, milk or saliva to keep it moist while being taken to a dentist.

Remember, no matter what your dental emergency, it is important to consult an emergency dentist as soon as possible.

If you’ve got a dental emergency, call us for help.

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