Often, people will make dental appointments months in advance. For about six months, you know exactly when your next checkup will be, and you may even have a general idea of how the visit will go. But what happens when there is a dental emergency? And what exactly constitutes an emergency?
Dr. John Heimke, of Facial Aesthetic Designers in Rocky River, and Dr. Rick Rzepka, of Rzepka Dental in Beachwood, said there are a couple of things that constitute an “emergency.”
Rzepka said if a patient is in pain, that’s a dental emergency.
“If they’re in pain, I tell them, at any time, to come in immediately,” Rzepka said. “I see them that day, I squeeze them in, and I do not postpone them. Even if there is swelling with no pain, I still consider it to be an emergency. I still want to see them right away. I want to find out why they’re swelling.”
Heimke said pain can be caused by an abscess, which is an infection where the nerve dies on the tooth, and could be related to trauma. But, he said, many times it’s related to things such as a cavity, which will eat its way into the nerve area, and then the nerve and the blood supply forms an abscess or an infection at the end of the root. Heimke said that infection then travels through the bone and then can come up through the gums or through the cheek, and cause an infection.
“And if those aren’t treated, they can become life-threatening,” he said. “So, it’s very important that if people notice swelling, fever or anything like that, to contact (their) dentist, because they’re probably going to have to get that treated with some antibiotics and maybe a root canal or extraction.”
Rzepka said these emergencies can also be caused by food items, like popcorn, becoming jammed underneath the gums.
“So therefore, there’s really no abscess on the tooth, but there’s a gum problem,” Rzepka said. “With those, we get them in and we just try to relieve the problem as soon as possible. Antibiotics, doing root canals, surgical procedures, whatever is needed to get them out of pain for the dental emergency.”
Heimke said these problems can be avoided with normal, everyday hygiene. He said just like people are hygienic with their body, they should also be hygienic with their mouth by brushing, flossing and using a water flosser, which is like a motorized squirt gun for the mouth.
“Quite frankly, most people do not floss on a regular basis, even if they say they do,” Heimke said. “But this thing called a water flosser is very effective in moving the material between the teeth. So, the more we can clean the mouth, the better. Use a mouth rinse, like over-the-counter mouth rinses like Listerine. There’s a product we use, it’s over-the-counter, called Natural Dentists, and there’s no alcohol in it. I like the mouth rinses without alcohol because they don’t dry out the tissues, and it’s just better for you to try to have alcohol-free mouth rinses.”
With Halloween coming, children and adults may be eating sugary food. Heimke said a regime of morning and evening cleaning of the teeth is a very smart thing to do, as well as going to see the dentist for yearly exams and cleanings.
“Obviously, if you’re going to eat sweet foods or sticky foods that have sugar in them, the quicker you get that cleaned out of the mouth, the better,” he said.