Is Your Kid’s Tooth Pain a Dental Emergency?
What to Do If Your Child Has a Tooth Pain
If your child is currently experiencing a dental emergency in Rochester, NY, contact our office for prompt assistance. If you are calling after-hours, our answering service is available to take your call and relay your message to Dr. Shea, who will contact you as soon as possible.
Pain is a complex experience. While some pain directly results from tissue damage (like a scraped knee), pain can also be triggered indirectly (the way chocolate may trigger a migraine in certain individuals). So what does it mean if your child is experiencing tooth pain?
When teeth are healthy and structurally sound, they’re generally without feeling, thanks to the non-living tooth enamel that coats them. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, making it the perfect substance to withstand the forces of chewing and protect the sensitive living tissue (known as pulp) that’s at the center of each tooth. If tooth enamel is compromised by injury or decay, pulp can become irritated and inflamed, sending strong signals to the pain centers in your child’s brain that something is not okay.
When to See the Pediatric Dentist
While some conditions can cause referred tooth pain (like a sinus infection), most toothaches are the result of tooth damage, injury, or decay. So does your child’s toothache warrant an emergency trip to the pediatric dentist?
In most cases, the answer is yes, as healthy teeth don’t cause toothaches and tooth pain is a distressing experience for your child. While not all dental emergencies will require an after-hours visit, your child will experience less pain and stress if dental issues are handled with urgency.
Here’s how you can respond to the most common kids’ dental issues and injuries and help your child enjoy a smile that’s beautiful, healthy, and pain-free.
Toothaches can cause a dull throb or sharp pain, which is unpleasant at best and severe at worst. Most toothaches are caused by tooth decay, gum disease, or infection, though they can also originate from other dental issues, such as teeth grinding or clenching (known as bruxism).
No matter the cause and even if you can’t see signs of damage, tooth pain is a sign that your child needs to see their pediatric dentist ASAP. In the meantime, you can help your child find temporary relief by swishing their mouth with salt water, applying a few drops of clove oil with a cotton swab, or administering over-the-counter pain medications per their instructions.
2. Pain or Swelling
If your child is experiencing facial swelling, red gums, or tooth pain or sensitivity while chewing, they may have an abscessed tooth. Caused by a bacterial infection, an abscessed tooth has a pocket of pus that’s trapped within the gums or at the tip of a tooth’s root. An abscessed tooth can cause pain in the tooth itself, in addition to radiating pain in the ear, neck, or jaw.
As an abscessed tooth can cause excruciating pain and serious health risks, it’s vital to seek prompt emergency care from your child’s pediatric dentist. If your child has intense or throbbing tooth pain that’s accompanied by fever, facial swelling, a rapid heart rate, confusion, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, take your child to the nearest emergency room. These symptoms may mean that the infection has spread into your child’s jaw or surrounding tissues, which requires swift medical treatment to prevent a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.
3. Chips or Breaks
Though they may or may not cause pain, chips and breaks should be evaluated and treated as soon as possible to avoid unpleasant complications, such as pain, further damage, a tooth abscess, or tooth loss.
Contact your pediatric dentist ASAP if your child has a chipped, cracked, or broken tooth. While you wait to be seen, you can help your child temporarily ease pain with a warm, salt-water gargle or by applying a wrapped ice pack to your child’s check for up to 20 minutes once an hour. If you recovered any tooth fragments, you can preserve the pieces in cold milk or an emergency tooth preservation product approved by the ADA.
4. Knocked Out Tooth
Apart from when our baby teeth fall out naturally, our teeth aren’t meant to move—let alone get knocked out or loose. That said, having a tooth knocked in any way out of place is a traumatic dental injury that requires immediate emergency care from your child’s pediatric dentist to try to save the tooth and prevent future complications.
If your child has traumatically lost or loosened a tooth, use sterile gauze pads to control any bleeding and then work to quickly locate the tooth. Avoid touching the tooth roots when you pick up the tooth, then gently rinse it under slow-running water. Next, place the tooth in a small container of cold milk or an ADA-approved emergency tooth preservation product. Alternately, if your child is old enough and able, have your child hold the tooth between their cheek and gums to prevent the tooth from drying out on the way to the pediatric dentist office.
5. Cuts on Inner Cheeks, Lips, or Tongue
As your child engages in the world around them through sports, climbing, and play, they may get minor cuts every now and again inside their mouths. Many of these superficial oral injuries can be safely and effectively treated with first aid at home. For instance, you can rinse the area with cold water for several minutes or give your child an ice cube to suck on to reduce bleeding and swelling if they’re old enough to do so safely. If needed, you can also apply direct pressure to the injury with a clean cloth or bandage to stop the bleeding.
If your child has an injury to the tissue inside of their mouth that won’t stop bleeding or otherwise seems severe, seek immediate treatment at your nearest emergency room. If your child also damaged or knocked out a tooth, priority will be given to stopping the bleeding, and can be followed by an emergency dentist visit to help save or restore a knocked out or damaged tooth.
6. Bleeding Gums
If your child’s gums are red, swollen, or bleed easily, they may have gingivitis. The earliest form of periodontal (gum) disease, gingivitis is often caused by excessive plaque buildup along the gumline. Unless plaque is disrupted by daily oral hygiene habits and routine dental visits, plaque will irritate your child’s gum tissue and cause the gums to bleed easily and become red and swollen.
Gingivitis is not an urgent dental emergency, though your child should see their pediatric dentist right away to prevent more serious dental issues with a deep cleaning. Along with getting your child’s oral health back on track, seeing your child’s pediatric dentist ASAP can spare your child from undesirable and uncomfortable oral health complications, including tooth loss and tissue damage.
From preventative dental visits to emergency care, Dr. Shea is here to support your child’s oral health and comfort at every age. Increase your peace of mind by adding our office number to your contact list in case of a dental emergency and by scheduling your child’s next preventative dental appointment.