The many faces of dental emergencies

    submitted by Dr. Michael Spadafora, D.D.S., Bucks County Dental Design,

    Dental emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a toddler who falls and hits his mouth causing his gums and lips to bleed, a teenager who suffers a sports injury to his teeth, or a senior citizen who drops and cracks his dentures.  These are just a few of the many emergencies that show up in dental offices each year.

    The dental emergency that is probably the most frustrating to dentists, however, is the simple toothache. The reason it is so frustrating is that often the patient has been warned that problems are brewing. The first warning may come from the dental professional, explaining that a “small cavity” was seen on the x-ray, through the intra-oral camera, or visually during the doctor’s exam.

    The follow-up warnings come from the patient himself.  These warnings are often sensitivity to heat and/or cold, and a dull ache or throbbing sensation. When the dull ache accelerates to pain, the patient becomes motivated to call the dentist (any time, day or night, holidays and weekends!). 

    When the tooth becomes painful the disease has spread, usually into the nerve. Now the patient faces root canal therapy and treatment of the diseased tooth. Sometimes, as the infection spreads, the face starts to swell, and that truly is a cause for concern. Dentists will send the patient to the hospital if the swelling is very significant. At that point the infection is in the bloodstream, dangerously close to the brain and other important organs, and intravenous antibiotics may necessary.

    The dentist may not be able to immediately treat the problem when a patient shows up with pain and some swelling. First, the patient has to be treated with antibiotics and pain medication. After the mouth “calms down” the anesthesia will be effective and the problem tooth can be treated.

    A good rule to follow is this – if your dentist diagnoses a cavity, follow his advice and treat it! Little cavities, when ignored, can become big (and expensive) problems. 

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