Is a cracked tooth an emergency?

If you are reading this Q&A section answer it’s quite likely that you or your relative suffer from a cracked tooth. We wrote this bit to help you in the case of that scenario. But first things first: do not panic! Calm your nerves and learn your options, we’re here to help. Let’s begin!

Please note that this is not a full article regarding teeth cracks. To read more on the causes, types, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of cracks head to the full article, which covers also topics such as complications, self-care, prevention, and cost and outlook of treatments.

Is your cracked tooth a dental emergency?

If you have a cracked tooth you quite likely need to have it checked by a dentist, but in most cases, a broken or chipped tooth is not considered a dental emergency. However, there are some exceptions to this rule of thumb, and this Q&A answer is to help you decide whether it’s an emergency or a case for a normal scheduled dental appointment. Please keep in mind that in an emergency most dentists will help you on-demand, even without scheduled appointments, and if it’s not their working hours you can still try dental offices with emergency care. When calling the dental office try to be as clear as possible to help them assess what kind of treatment you may need – if possible take a photo of the damage and text it to them or send it via e-mail.

So let’s start off with some questions:
  1. Is your tooth still in the socket or have you lost a tooth?
    If your tooth is out of the socket (has fallen out of your mouth) this certainly is an emergency – an urgent one! Pick it up by the upper part called crown, never by the root – if possible try not to touch the root at all. Then rinse it gently under running water (but do not try to clean or scrub it manually) and store it in your own saliva, mild salt solution, or milk. For transport, you can also try to put it back into the socket or if not possible in your mouth between your cheek and gums. If the tooth is cracked you may try to secure it by putting over it one of the following things: dental wax, dental filling material, a tea bag, or even sugar-free gum. But if you’re not confident about doing it just get to a dental office ASAP – in this scenario every second counts.
  2. Are you in pain? How severe is it? Is it constant or only when biting?
    If a chipped or cracked tooth does not give you any sensations it’s likely you don’t have to rush to your dentist. On the other hand, pain is not a good sign – your tooth nerve may be damaged or there is a problem with one of your fillings. Constant pain requires over-the-counter pain relievers and scheduling dental visits within a few days. If pain is not constant you can also perform simple pulp vitality tests on your own like percussion test or thermal test.
  3. Do you have heat or cold sensitivity?
    Another not-so-good sign.
  4. Do you have loose teeth?
    A loose tooth, even if it’s without any pain, is a serious problem. On the other hand, if you lose a part of the restoration like a filling, a veneer, or a crown and it does not hurt it can probably wait for a few days.
  5. Do you have an infection or is there any swelling?
    Serious infection or an abscess in your mouth can be life-threatening so treatment should not wait. Check for symptoms of an abscess such: as swelling, bumps or knots on the gums, high fever, or swelling around the face.
  6. Are you bleeding from the mouth?
    This is a potential emergency – see the dentist as soon as possible especially if the bleeding is excessive and won’t stop without your intervention.
Some extra tips:
  • When considering pain relievers do not take aspirin, as it may increase bleeding by dilluting blood.
  • If your tooth has fallen out never let the tooth become dry – this can lead to damage.
  • To avoid these kinds of situations in the first place: wear a mouthguard when participating in contact/risky sports, avoid chewing ice and hard objects like popcorn kernels or hard candy and never use your teeth to cut or open packages or things.
  • Purchase Save-A-Tooth or a similar emergency tooth preservation kit (in advance of any accidents) and add it to your first aid kit.

The bottom line:

If you have a cracked tooth it should be always inspected by your dentist. To decide how urgent this appointment should be you need to assess your situation by answering a series of questions listed above and decide on your own using our recommendations.

This article is a part of our Q&A series in which we give detailed answers to our readers' questions. Have a question? Don't hesitate and send it to us to get a detailed answer!

This Q&A series article is complete and was last updated on December 13, 2022.

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