Got a cracked tooth or a cut in your mouth? It could require immediate dental care. Find out what to do in these 11 dental emergencies.

Like cavities and gum disease, many dental problems develop gradually after months (or years!) of dental-health neglect. But sometimes, pain or sensitivity in your teeth can come on suddenly, and you may need immediate dental care, either at the emergency room or from your dentist.

It’s not always easy to know whether a tooth, gum, or mouth problem requires emergency care — or what to do about it. In fact, most Americans are unprepared to handle a dental health emergency, according to a survey of 1,000 participants.

Think your mouth issue is a dental health 911? Here’s a handy guide to situations that are generally considered dental emergencies:

  • Lip or tongue bite with excessive bleeding. If you accidentally bite your lip, tongue, or other soft tissue in your mouth, clean the area and apply a cold compress to decrease swelling. If the bleeding is severe, or will not stop, go to the emergency room.
  • Broken or cracked tooth. In the case of a broken or cracked tooth, call your dentist immediately. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, rinse your mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress outside the affected area.
  • Damaged braces. If your braces become damaged, call your orthodontist right away. Some instances of damaged braces need to be fixed immediately; others can wait until your next appointment.
  • Injury to your jaw. If you suspect you may have broken your jaw, apply a cold compress to the area and immediately go to your dentist’s office or to the emergency room.
  • Loose tooth. If one of your teeth is partially dislodged, see your dentist right away — they may be able to save the tooth. Until you can get to your dentist’s office, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and apply a cold compress to the affected area to relieve pain.
  • Tooth that has been knocked out. Grasp your lost tooth by the crown and rinse its root if it is dirty, avoiding scrubbing the tooth or removing pieces of tissue that may be attached. You can attempt to reinsert the tooth into its socket in your mouth, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to see your dentist quickly. The American Dental Association recommends placing the tooth in milk, which acts as a preservative until you can get to a professional.

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