Below is a guide to help you distinguish between a condition that needs to be checked within the next few weeks and one that can't wait over the weekend. These are not absolute categories and are not diagnostic, but are general guidelines to help you know what to do. No matter what you are feeling, you should always make an appointment to let us evaluate your condition and treat you appropriately.
Dental pain comes in a variety of forms and is caused by a large range of conditions. Pain does occur on a wide spectrum and people will respond to it differently.
Sensitivity: Can be from root exposure (recession), cold air or water, a cavity, clenching and grinding, or a poor occlusion (how your teeth come together). It typically goes away quickly and is able to be tolerated. Patients will describe it as "a zing", "infrequent", "a small jolt", or just plain "annoying"! They usually know the casue of it and can avoid it. This is usually not an emergency but needs to be evaluated at some point.
Tooth ache: This is more severe. The tooth or side of your face throbs constantly, wakes you up at night, is becoming more frequent or never stops. It interferes with your daily activities and could be accompanied by swelling or fever. It could be caused by a fracture or an abscess (infection of the root and surrounding bone). This needs attention within a few days to prevent a more serious infection (cellulitis).
Jaw Pain: Many people have pain in the angle of their jaw, in front of their ear or while chewing or opening. Let's face it - we all have stress! And the majority of my patients have parafunctional habits (clenching, grinding, nail-biting, etc.) which can cause damage or pain to their TMJ (temporomandibular joint), chewing muscles or teeth. Most of the time this can be managed using a custom nightguard, medicine or stress relief. Please talk to me about this so we can attempt to relieve this.
Visible swelling, fever, or lymph node enlargement always needs to be evaluated and treated appropriately. Call as soon as you can. Again, there are many different causes of this, and more serious infections will need antibiotics or follow-up care.
This can be as small as a chip that feels rough, all the way to a tooth that has been traumatized and knocked out. Obviously, there is a wide range of symptoms, causes, and treatment for this. Only severe fractures or loosened teeth would qualify as an emergency.