Can dental emergencies be life-threatening?

While a dental emergency can be emotionally jarring, some can also be life-threatening. In this post, our Edmonton dentists discuss types of dental trauma that may be life-threatening, as well as potential outcomes and how to find out whether your situation may be dangerous.

What is a dental emergency?

Dental emergencies seem to happen at the most inconvenient of times - while you're playing sports, enjoying the weekend, working or perhaps on holiday. 

A true dental emergency involves any dental issue with the potential to be life-threatening, from a knocked-out tooth or dental abscess to an injury to the gums and dental trauma that will need attention in a hospital emergency room. 

While you might hesitate to seek emergency dental care if you don't think your issue is urgent, putting off getting to your dentist can increase risk of long-term complications for your oral and overall health, not to mention have fatal consequences in some cases. 

The good news is that if you act fast in an emergency, your actions can positively influence the final outcome. In this post, we'll list a few common dental emergencies and actions to take that may turn out to save your own life.  

Severe Toothache Pain

Tooth pain can have a couple of different causes, from an injury such as a broken or cracked tooth to a severe oral infection, like a cavity or infection of the pulp. 

Sensations of pain may be sharp or dull and impair function until it receives care from a dentist. If you're feeling consistent pain in your tooth, come to our office right away for assessment and treatment. 

Knocked-Out Tooth

This serious dental emergency will need a dentist's attention within 30 minutes to 1 hour after the tooth is knocked out. If a knocked-out tooth is put back into place soon enough after an incident, it may be able to re-attach to the jaw bone. 

Cracked Tooth

Cracked or broken teeth can cause quite a lot of pain, so we recommend coming to our dental office as soon as possible to help prevent or reduce pain, and avoid further complications due to infection or tooth decay. Not having these problems treated in a timely manner will result in worsening of both pain and the condition. 

Broken teeth can typically be repaired either by reattaching the broken part of the tooth or by bonding a tooth-coloured filling or crown into the space where the fracture has occurred. 

Swelling or Infection Around a New Wisdom Tooth

Sometimes, wisdom teeth do not have enough room to erupt through the gums. The medical term for this is pericoronitis, and it can lead to infection that causes pain and discomfort. The condition can either be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). 

People suffering from this type of infection may experience dull pain, mild discomfort, swollen gums or a bad taste in the mouth. There may also be pus discharge, pain when swallowing, fever and severe pain or facial swelling. 

Lost or Broken Fillings 

While it may not seem as urgent as some other dental emergencies, lost or broken fillings can lead to tissue being exposed, causing severe discomfort. Even if you are not experienced any discomfort due to the lost or broken filling, bacteria in the mouth can cause further tooth deterioration and lead to an infection or more serious dental emergency.

Life-Threatening Dental Emergencies

A life-threatening dental emergency will need attention right away to reduce risk of further complications, blood loss or death. Two types of dental emergencies often fall into this category, which can also include other types of injuries, disease or infections depending on the patient's circumstances:

Uncontrolled Bleeding

Uncontrolled bleeding is classified as bleeding that does not stop after a few seconds or several minutes. It can result in severe blood loss and cause breathing problems. 

The most common causes of uncontrolled bleeding include accidents involving the teeth. If a nerve-carrying blood is hit, bleeding can become profuse and sutures will be required. This type of bleeding can also occur if a patient has pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. 

Untreated Dental Abscess 

Infection can set in due to untreated tooth decay, which can lead to an accumulation of pus. The buildup of pus in the body can cause the teeth to become sensitive to hot and cold sensations, persistent toothache and fever that cannot be alleviated even with pain killers. 

Lymph nodes in the neck may swell and the infection can spread to other areas of the mouth and body, along with facial swelling. Dental abscesses need to be treated as soon as possible by a dentist. 

Dental Trauma

Dental trauma occurs as a result of sudden injury to the facial area and the mouth, during which the teeth may be lost, chipped, broken or even partially or completely uprooted. 

This can happen as a result of sports injuries, motor vehicle accidents, assault or other incidents. Jaw or mandibular fractures can also occur and need treatment administered by an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.  

Depending on the nature of your mouth trauma, you may first visit an emergency room or be referred to a surgeon.

Common Questions About Dental Emergencies

Here are some common questions our dentists at  Emergency Dental Clinics have received from patients about dental emergencies.

What if my dental injury won't stop bleeding?

Dental injuries that do not stop bleeding after gauze is applied for a few seconds or a few minutes will need the attention of an emergency physician or oral surgeon. Go to your local hospital for care.

How do I get rid of a mouth infection?

Treatment will vary depending on the type of infection. For infection in the tooth's pulp, the dentist will perform a root canal to remove diseased material, seal the tooth and eliminate the source of pain. For a broken or cracked tooth, the dentist will use a filling to repair damage. 

What should I do with teeth if they are knocked out?

If you can find the tooth, avoid touching the root - pick it up by the crown. Rinse it with water or milk if it is soiled and place it back in the socket if possible while biting down gently to hold it in place. 

If you are unable to place the tooth back in its socket, place it in a container of milk (not water) to keep it moist, or keep it in your inner cheek until you arrive at our office, where the dentist can evaluate your injury, assess the condition of the tooth and place it back in its socket.  

How can I manage pain until I get to the dentist?

Until you can see a dentist at our Edmonton office, follow these steps to manage pain:

  • Use warm water to rinse your mouth out. 
  • If you are bleeding, apply pressure to the area using gauze until the bleeding stops. 
  • Put a cold ice pack on your lips or cheek to help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. 
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help alleviate pain.

Emergency Dental Care in Edmonton

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or you're not sure whether your dental issue is urgent enough to need emergency dental care, call us to ask which actions you should take next. 

Remember: urgent dental issues can occur without severe pain, so monitor your condition closely. We can often determine the urgency of your problem on the phone and treat minor toothaches and swelling at our office. 

In cases of dental emergencies that have become life-threatening, patients are often referred to their local hospital emergency room so an emergency physician or oral surgeon can administer treatment to stop life-threatening infections in the head and neck, halt uncontrolled bleeding and keep the airway open for breathing.


Do you have a dental emergency, or are you unsure if you require urgent care? Contact our Edmonton dentists right away. We can examine your injury and recommend treatment options.

Have a dental emergency in Edmonton? We're here on weekends and after hours to help.

Dental emergencies always happen when you least expect them. Our friendly and experienced dental team is on call to assist you when you need us most.

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