Dental emergency FAQs

When it comes to dental emergencies, there’s a lot of common misconceptions. Should you go to the dentist for a toothache? What should you do if you knock out a tooth?

At Bupa Dental Care, we get asked a lot of questions about dental emergencies. We put your frequently asked questions to our clinical director, Sarah Ramage.

A dental emergency means you require urgent assistance for severe pain in your mouth. This could be caused by a number of things such as infection and dental injury. Common emergency dental problems include severe tooth decay, dental abscesses and knocked-out teeth.

Generally, you should avoid going to A&E for a dental emergency. Doctors are not fully-equipped to treat dental emergencies, so going to the hospital may end up being a frustrating experience for you. You should only go to A&E if you:

  • Have uncontrollable bleeding in your mouth
  • Have increasing swelling, which is causing you difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Have swelling around your eye or neck following dental problems

Many dental practices offer same-day, next-day, or out-of-hours emergency dental appointments, so you should be able to see someone relatively quickly. Contact your local practice if you need to see an emergency dentist.

If your toothache lasts more than two days, you should consult your dentist. You should see the dentist sooner if you have a high temperature, pain when biting down or swelling in your mouth.

In the first two days, and/or if you’re waiting for your emergency appointment, there are a few things you can do to ease the pain. If you have a toothache:

  • Take painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen to ease the pain
  • Rinse your mouth with salt water (if you’re an adult)
  • Avoid chewing with your sore tooth or eating very hot or cold foods

If you’ve knocked out a tooth, don’t panic, but make sure you see your dentist as soon as possible. If you knock out a tooth, make sure you:

  • Pick the tooth up carefully by the top of the tooth. Never touch the root of your tooth
  • Rinse the tooth with water if it’s fallen on the ground or on a surface outside your mouth
  • Try and reinsert your tooth back into its socket, to keep the root protected. Hold it in place by using soft fabric or by gently biting down. If you can’t reinsert it, place your tooth in a glass of milk to preserve the root
  • See a dentist as soon as you can. The quicker you see a dentist, the more likely it is that the tooth can be saved

Call your local dental practice and see if you can get an emergency appointment. Most dental practices offer same-day or next day emergency appointments. It’s better to call ahead if you need to make an emergency appointment, as you may be turned away as a walk-in patient or told to return at a different time.

If you need to see a dentist out-of-hours, get in touch with your local practice. They may be able to accommodate this for you, or there might be an answerphone message with relevant contact details. If you can’t find one, call 111, they should be able to advise you of an emergency dental service in your area.

A dental abscess is caused by a bacterial infection and causes an area of pus to form. When there’s no way for the pus to drain from the mouth, it becomes a dental abscess. If an abscess causes the nerve of your tooth to become infected, it can form swelling on the inside of your mouth that looks a bit like a boil, this can burst in the mouth.

If it bursts, the pain in your mouth will significantly decrease, but you still need to see a dentist. They’ll drain your abscess properly and wash the infected area with saline to help decrease the swelling and keep it clean. It’s likely you’ll also need further treatment to make sure you’re completely rid of the infection. Your dentist will further advise you after your emergency treatment.

You don’t always need to be registered to see a dentist in an emergency, but it varies depending on your local practice. If you are registered, you should contact your usual practice to find out the emergency options they have available. If you aren’t, or your practice doesn’t offer emergency appointments, try searching for other practices in your local area or call 111 to seek further advice about services nearby.

Bupa Dental Care has over 350 practices across the UK. Find a practice near you offering emergency appointments.

You should never try and remove a tooth yourself. You could cause serious permanent damage to your mouth. Always visit a dentist to seek their advice if you have a dental problem.

Yes. If you’re an NHS patient, you will pay a ‘band 1’ charge. During an emergency, the dentist will do their best to treat the dental issue in one appointment, but you may be advised to have follow-up treatment, which you’ll have to pay for separately. If you are entitled to free NHS dental care, you can claim back the cost of your emergency treatment.

If you’re a private patient, the price for an emergency appointment varies per practice. It’s usually slightly more expensive to see a dentist in an emergency than it is for a general check-up. Get in touch with your local practice to find out how much an emergency appointment costs.

As with any infection in the body, there’s always a risk that an infection could spread. A toothache can cause you to develop a temperature from the infection, but in the worst case, it could cause an extreme infection such as sepsis. This is extremely rare.

As long as you go to the dentist as soon as you think you might have an infection, they will be able to give you the right treatment you need to control it. It’s especially important to see a dentist if you think you might have a dental abscess, as this could spread to your head and neck.

Your dentist will always do their best to save your natural tooth where they can, as it means you can maintain the natural structure of your mouth. There’s also less risk of infection if you save the tooth compared to removing it, and it saves you the cost of having to have a restoration such as a dental implant or a dental bridge.

If you have swelling around your tooth, visit your dentist as soon as you can. If you need relief before seeing a dentist, use a cold compress or ice pack on the inflamed area and take over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen and paracetamol.

For swelling around wisdom teeth, try rinsing your mouth with salt water, which might help remove trapped food and clean the area.

No, dental abscesses won’t heal on their own. You’ll need to go to the dentist so they can treat the infection for you. You might also need antibiotics depending on how much the infection has spread. Infection from abscesses can spread to your jaw or other areas of your neck, which is why it’s vital you see the dentist.

Keeping up good oral hygiene is key to avoiding dental emergencies. Make sure you:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes
  • Limit the amount of sugar in your diet to prevent tooth decay
  • See your dentist regularly to make sure there’s no problems with your oral health

Need to see an emergency dentist?

If you’re experiencing pain in your teeth or mouth, get in touch with your local dentist as soon as possible. They can book you an emergency appointment or advise you on what you should do to ease the pain until you can see your dentist.

Bupa Dental Care has over 350 practices across the UK. You don’t always need to be a registered patient to see one of our dentists in an emergency. Contact your nearest practice to find out your options for emergency dental care

^ We may record or monitor our calls.

Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Dental Care Limited. Registered in England and Wales No: 00478127. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care, Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

Oasis Dental Care Limited has a number of trading names including Bupa Dental Care. For a list of all our different trading names please follow this link.

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