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Are Fillings Considered An Emergency?

Emergency Dentists – Are Fillings Considered An Emergency?

What to do when a sudden toothache has you worried that you need a new filling — or when you lose an old filling — and it happens over the weekend. 

When Do I Need An Emergency Dentist?

There are inevitably times in life when you will find yourself (or worse, your child) suffering from a toothache. More inevitable is the fact that those times won’t always helpfully fall within business hours, Monday through Friday, excluding all major holidays. Eventually, you’re bound to find yourself or a loved one dealing with worrisome dental symptoms over the weekend or right in the middle of Christmas break. These times may call for emergency dentistry, which is the blanket term used to describe any dentist who reserves emergency slots on weekends and during major holidays, as well as after regular office hours on weekdays.

Some minor tooth pain, absent of other indicative symptoms, can be resolved and remedied simply by reducing the inflammation in the mouth, which typically is responsible for minor tooth pain associated with a non-urgent decay problem (or, a cavity, in most cases). In such cases, many dentists recommend making an appointment for the earliest possible date and recommend alleviating the symptoms in the meantime with the 3-3-3 method.

The 3-3-3 method is a safe, simple, over-the-counter treatment involving 3 Advils (or ibuprofen, equaling 600 mg total), 3 times a day, for 3 days. In most cases, those 3 days will get you through the weekend and through at least most of a holiday break. And often, the pain subsides on its own after the swelling has been treated with the anti-inflammatory byproduct of the pain relievers (note that not all over-the-counter pain relievers are created equal when it comes to being an anti-inflammatory; ibuprofen is generally best for reducing inflammation). This can help when the pain is mild and other symptoms are absent, though you should still visit your dentist to follow up to find out if what you have is a cavity, and to rule out the risk of more insidious dental conditions and disease.

In addition to over the counter anti-inflammatory agents, there are other things you can try to temporarily alleviate mild mouth and tooth pain: Cold compresses, rinsing the mouth with saltwater, and toothache numbing creams (available over the counter) can all be equally viable alternatives to pain relievers, but cannot substitute for proper dental care, which should be sought out at the earliest possible date.

Do Emergency Dentists do Fillings?

The short answer is, yes. But it should be taken into account that not all fillings need to happen on a same-day basis, and not all toothaches require fillings (though it could be indicative of other dental problems, so you should always have it checked out). There are two reasons you might need an emergency dentist for a filling: One is, that you have previously had a cavity filled (or capped/crowned) and the filling has become cracked or dislodged completely. The second reason you might need a filling is due to a suspected cavity, or advancing tooth decay which is often treated with caps, crowns, and fillings.

My Filling Fell Out Over The Weekend; Do I Need An Emergency Dentist?

Yes. This is generally considered a dental emergency because a tooth becomes weakened and compromised when drilled and treated with filling. Without that dental composite reinforcing the tooth structure, your tooth may crack, chip, and can even break severely. Additionally, fillings can sometimes go deep into the tooth canal, which when absent can expose the nerves. This not only causes moderate to severe tooth and jaw pain, but it also can present a risk of infection, and nerve damage.

If left untreated, the infection could potentially migrate into the bloodstream, causing a medically urgent and life-threatening condition known as sepsis. If you have lost a filling, make an appointment with your dentist immediately, even if it requires scheduling an appointment over the weekend, holiday, or after business hours. If you cannot see your dentist for 12 hours or more and you have lost your filling completely, some cases can be temporarily treated with an over-the-counter temporary dental filling kit, which is simple to mix and apply to your tooth at home.

It is not, however, a substitute for an appointment at your dentist’s office. Like a spare “donut” tire you put on your car to temporarily fix a flat, it will only get you to the closest proverbial gas station. It shouldn’t be treated like a substitute for the real thing. It also shouldn’t be used if you suspect your tooth is infected, or if you have any bleeding or visible signs of abscess. In other words, don’t put a temporary tire on a car that has flames coming out from under the hood. See an emergency dentist immediately.

Do I Need An Emergency Dentist For New Fillings?

If you have a simple toothache, it may not be a cavity. It could be caused by bruxism (which is grinding your teeth), or it could be a loss of enamel causing your tooth to suddenly become sensitive to hot and cold or to very sweet foods, or it could be a gum infection. To determine what is causing the tooth pain, you should certainly see a dentist as soon as possible, because a toothache does not always indicate that the problem is a cavity. Some signs of a cavity include toothache (from mild to severe), sensitivity to hot and cold, white or brown spots on the tooth, infection or abscess, bad breath, or a tar-like deposit on top of the superficial surface of the tooth (usually in the crevices, and particularly visible in the molars). While this may be the most tell-tale sign of a cavity, it typically requires a dentist’s trained eye and the utilization of special picks to determine if the residue is the sticky substance left in the wake of tooth decay. A better way to determine if you need a dentist for what you believe is a cavity is to use this simple self-checklist:

  1. Are you bleeding? Bleeding is often a sign of an emergency, particularly when it is unprovoked and difficult to staunch. While bleeding from your gums while, say, brushing your teeth may be a concerning symptom (possibly indicative of periodontal diseases) which you should certainly share with your dentist at your next appointment, that wouldn’t be the kind of bleeding that would typically constitute an emergency. Bleeding in excess, or bleeding accompanied with any of the other symptoms on this list is generally considered an emergency. If you’re still not sure if it constitutes an emergency, it’s better to play it safe and schedule the earliest possible appointment. Note that if you’ve fractured your face or jaw (like, after a car accident or some other severe facial trauma) you should go to the emergency room before seeking dental treatment. This holds for all severe facial/jaw injuries. 
  2. Are you in severe pain? Tooth pain can be quite severe, but fortunately, it doesn’t always equate to the same level of urgency as the intensity of the pain might indicate. If the pain is unbearable, unrelenting, and does not subside with hot/cold compresses, over-the-counter pain relievers, and saltwater rinsing, it is probably best to make an appointment immediately. 
  3. Do you have an infection? A dental abscess is the most outward sign of infection, and it is an absolute confirmation that you have a serious dental emergency. A dental abscess is a localized pocket of infected tissue or blister, usually filled with pus, and occurring anywhere in the mouth that is associated with the decaying tooth. Dental abscesses can be periapical abscesses (the most common kind) which is a bacterial infection that occurs in the dead or dying pulp at the center of a decaying tooth. Less common is the periodontal abscess. Periapical abscesses can be caused by untreated tooth decay and failed root canals, just to name two common causes. In the absence of a visible abscess, you may still have an infection. If the gum is red and swollen, extending beyond the area where the offending tooth sits, you may have a serious infection. This can be accompanied by pain that may or may not radiate or refer beyond the site of infection. If you have spreading pain, signs of abscess, or if you have a fever, you should see an emergency dentist as soon as physically possible. Do not wait if you have any of these symptoms, as they can in some cases be life-threatening. 

If you think you need a filling to treat a suspected cavity, the best way to know if you need an emergency dental appointment is to assess yourself using the above criteria. If you are in severe pain, show signs of infection (even mild or just potential signs), or if you have any abnormal bleeding, you should see an emergency dentist.

If you have lost or damaged your older dental filling, you should see an emergency dentist if possible. This is especially urgent if you have any new pain or sensitivity, or if you believe your tooth is weakened or vulnerable. However, it can be very difficult to self-assess whether or not your tooth is structurally compromised by the missing filling. 

As such, it’s always best to play it safe and seek out the earliest possible appointment to get the lost filling replaced, even if it’s not causing you any pain or sensitivity. Complications from allowing a lost filling to go untreated can require much more invasive dental procedures and poses a significant risk to your health. If you have lost a filling, it is always best to get it replaced as soon as possible, even if that falls on weekends or after-hours.If you are experiencing a dental emergency, be sure to contact our office in Mission Viejo today.

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