Questions to Ask When Determining the Severity of the Toothache
When deciding whether to take a child to the ER for their toothache, ask yourself these questions first:
- How severe is the pain? If the toothache is causing extreme, debilitating pain that has not been relieved by over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, then it is likely a dental emergency requiring immediate attention. Excruciating tooth pain that is unrelieved is often indicative of a serious problem.
- How long has the toothache lasted? If the tooth pain has persisted for several days and is progressively worsening over time rather than improving, this likely requires emergency dental treatment. Toothaches lasting this long that are not treated can potentially lead to dangerous oral infections.
- Is there swelling of the face, jaw, or gums? Significant swelling or inflammation in the facial area surrounding the painful tooth could signal a dental abscess, infection, or cellulitis, which are serious conditions needing urgent dental care and antibiotics. Facial swelling should never be ignored or delayed in treatment
- Is there a high fever along with the toothache? A fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit in a child along with dental pain can indicate a spreading infection that needs immediate medical intervention at the emergency room. High fevers require emergency care even if no other symptoms are present.
- Is there difficulty breathing or swallowing? Any difficulty breathing or swallowing that occurs in conjunction with a severe toothache could mean a dental infection is spreading and compromising vital functions, requiring emergency room treatment. Trouble breathing or swallowing warrants an instant trip to the ER.
- Is the tooth loose, cracked, or damaged? A visibly loose, cracked, fractured, or otherwise significantly damaged tooth causing great pain will need treatment to prevent worsening or loss of the tooth, if it can still be saved. Severely damaged teeth may require emergency dental extraction.
- Is there excessive bleeding from the gums? Uncontrolled bleeding from the gums near the painful tooth could signify trauma, which would need urgent dental work to stop the bleeding and treat the underlying cause. Excessive dental bleeding is an emergency.
- Is the child acting extremely irritable or lethargic? Dramatic shifts in behavior, such as excessive irritability, restlessness, or lethargy paired with dental pain, can indicate an urgent need for medical evaluation, as changes in mental state signal something is wrong.
- Are over-the-counter pain relievers and home remedies helping? If the severe tooth pain persists unabated even after taking OTC painkillers and trying home remedies, the tooth likely requires more aggressive pain management only available at the ER or dentist’s office.
- Is the dentist available to be seen urgently? The moment you sense your child’s toothache is turning into an emergency situation, call Kids Tooth Team. We’ll do our best to see your child as soon as possible, get them out of pain, and begin treatment. And always trust your instincts. If your child's pain is extreme, then the emergency room or an urgent care facility may be the quickest option to get them the care they need.
Risks and Limitations of the ER for Dental Emergencies
Before heading out to the ER, make sure you understand its limitations. Most ERs are not equipped with the specialized tools and equipment necessary for comprehensive dental care. They may only be able to provide temporary pain relief and antibiotics, but not address the underlying dental issue. Be sure to go in with the right expectations, as you will likely need to see a dentist eventually.
ER visits can be costly and time-consuming, especially if the dental concern is not life-threatening. Dental procedures performed in the ER may not be covered by insurance, resulting in significant out-of-pocket expenses for parents. Therefore, it is generally more cost-effective and efficient to seek dental care from a qualified pediatric dentist or emergency dentist.
Alternative Options for Dental Emergencies
Instead of rushing to the ER, there are alternative options available for dental emergencies. Many pediatric dental practices offer emergency dental services and have flexible scheduling to accommodate urgent cases. By contacting a pediatric dentist, you can receive prompt attention, proper diagnosis, and appropriate treatment for your child's toothache.
In some instances, a telehealth consultation may be sufficient to assess the severity of the toothache and provide guidance on managing the pain until an in-person appointment can be scheduled. This option can be particularly helpful if you are unsure whether the toothache requires immediate attention or if you are unable to visit a dental office immediately.
Taking Steps to Prevent Dental Emergencies
Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to dental emergencies. Encouraging good oral hygiene practices, such as regular brushing and flossing, can significantly reduce the risk of tooth decay and other dental issues that can lead to severe toothaches. Additionally, scheduling routine dental check-ups with a pediatric dentist allows for early detection and intervention, preventing potential emergencies down the line.
Schedule an Appointment with Dr. Alex for Emergency Dental Care
If your child is experiencing a toothache or any other dental emergency, don't hesitate to reach out to our expert team at Kids Tooth Team. Dr. Alex and her dedicated staff specialize in pediatric dentistry and are well-equipped to handle dental emergencies with compassion and expertise. Contact us at (512) 523-4774 to schedule an appointment and ensure your child receives the prompt and effective dental care they need.