Ordinary medical emergencies don’t stop during trying times. On the advice of medical professionals, many people, including dental office staff, are practicing social distancing or are under lockdown during the coronavirus epidemic. But it’s important that we don’t forget the importance of oral health, including dental emergencies, while fighting the coronavirus. What qualifies as an emergency varies with each case, and when determining a course of action dentists also have to consider the situation in their region and the need to reduce burdens on hospital emergency rooms. Although the coronavirus situation is changing rapidly, we want to help people to understand what constitutes an emergency and what they can do to avoid needing urgent care.

Injuries and Infections

Injuries resulting in pain, loss of function, or high risk of infection require immediate treatment. One kind of injury the American Dental Association specifically recommends care for is gum irritation caused by an unsnipped or broken orthodontic wire. Other problems that necessitate a quick response are a painful broken tooth, the loss of a tooth, a loose filling, and pain caused by tooth decay. Patients should also seek help if they develop an abscess, which is a pocket of pus that forms due to infection in the gum pocket, in the dental pulp chamber, or at the tip of the tooth root. Signs of an abscess include throbbing pain, swelling in the face, fever, and bad tasting or smelling fluid in the mouth. Swelling that obstructs breathing or swallowing should be treated in an emergency room, as should uncontrolled bleeding.

What About Caring for Recent Treatments and Procedures?

If a patient recently got sutures after having a tooth extracted, they will need to have the sutures removed professionally. Patients should also consider a dry socket and its care to be an emergency. If a patient received a temporary crown while undergoing prosthodontic or endodontic treatment, they will need care if the temporary prosthetic becomes loose or inflamed. Pericoronitis, which is inflammation surrounding an implant-supported crown, may also require urgent care to prevent the loss of the implant. Additionally, patients should have their oral appliances such as dentures repaired if they are unable to chew or the oral appliance has become painful and they don’t have a back-up.

How Do I Avoid Emergencies?

Oral hygiene remains paramount. Everybody should thoroughly brush their teeth twice a day, as well as floss and scrape their tongues. People can reduce cross-contamination of toothbrushes by allowing them to air dry while keeping them from touching each other. Putting them in closed containers could allow bacteria to grow on them. Toothbrushes require replacement when their bristles begin to fray or after the user has been sick, and people should wash their hands before brushing their teeth or flossing.

Mouthwash may supplement brushing and flossing but is not a substitute. Dry mouth increases the risk of an oral infection but is mitigated by drinking plenty of water and stimulating the saliva glands by chewing sugar-free gum or candy. Patients should also avoid chewing on ice or using their teeth as can tab openers or other tools and should be cautious about chewing anything hard or that might be sticky enough to interfere with a filling or orthodontic bracket. Remember to wear mouthguards during activities such as cycling or running and to clean them according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Lastly, although everyone is responsible for their oral hygiene, do not attempt orthodontic therapy or oral surgery outside of professional treatment.

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