What is a Dental “Emergency”?

In the midst of the COVID – 19 pandemic, businesses are limiting hours, staff, and even customers.

In response, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are strongly urging dentists to only hold appointments with patients who need emergency dental care. However, “emergency” is a general term that is leaving many patients wondering if what they are experiencing warrants a dentist appointment.

Using the ADA’s guidelines, let’s explore the signs you should look for to decide if you have an emergency.


Pain is how our bodies tell us something is wrong. Nerves in the affected part of the body sense damage, inflammation, or infection and report it back to the brain, which then sends the signal of discomfort. Pandemic or not, if you are feeling any pain in your mouth or jaw, you should call your dentist.

Be sure to describe every aspect of your discomfort in as much detail as possible. Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What area of the mouth or jaw is hurting?
  • Is the pain dull or sharp?
  • Is the pain constant or does it flare up during different conditions (movement, temperature, pressure)?
  • When was the last time you visited the dentist and what did your appointment include?
  • What pain relieving methods have you already tried?

Don’t be surprised if they also ask questions unrelated to your dental needs. To ensure that you are not needing to be quarantined or receive treatment from a hospital, they may ask if you have traveled recently, interacted with people, or have been sensing any symptoms of COVID – 19.

Swelling or Bleeding

In addition to pain, swelling and constant bleeding can be a sign of a serious dental issue that would be considered an emergency. Swelling is due to an increase in blood flow and/or other fluids that are a result of an infection or a disease such as Gingivitis.

If you have recently had surgery you should closely monitor the area where you received the procedure. If you see any bleeding, you may have broken the stitches or other sealing devices that has closed your tissue. If you have any bleeding that hasn’t been addressed by your dentist, notify your dental care provider and update them on your situation.

Dental Appliance Repair or Adjustment

Bleeding in the mouth can also be caused by broken dental or orthodontic appliances. If you are using dentures, braces, headgear, or retainers, they may have sharp wires or plastic pieces that are cutting your mouth. These need to be adjusted by your dentist to prevent infection and further damage. This is especially important if you have just undergone treatment for cancer.

If your city is anything like LaSalle, IL., the pandemic has limited the treatment that dentists can offer. Which means that it is even more important now to keep your teeth as healthy as possible to prevent more serious conditions.

When all is said and done, your dentist would rather have you reach out to them and have no emergency than have an emergency and not be treated; so don’t hesitate to give them a call.