What to Do in a Dental Emergency, Advice From a New York City Dentist

June 12, 2015 Updated: July 25, 2017

Emergencies can be scary. Understanding what constitutes a dental emergency and knowing what steps to take can reduce the anxiety that accompanies emergencies. In general, it is preferable to see your regular dentist who has your records and knows your history, according to Dr. Rebecca Koenigsberg, a dentist at Gallery 57 Dental in New York City. Emergency treatment tends to be more time-consuming and expensive and should be reserved for true emergency situations.


If it’s severe, see a dentist or go to the ER as soon as possible. If it’s moderate, and/or there is swelling around a tooth, call or see a dentist within a day.

When it comes to dental pain, it can be difficult to decide what constitutes a true emergency that must be treated immediately versus a situation where pain medication may be adequate or a “wait and see” approach is warranted.

If you have a regular dentist, you should call the office and describe your symptoms. They should be able to determine if you need to be seen immediately or can wait.

If you don’t have a regular dentist, then you have to decide on the urgency. If there is swelling, prolonged pain (more than a couple of minutes) with hot liquid or food, or significant pain when tapping the teeth together, you should find a local dentist or emergency facility.


If it progresses to the face (beyond the gums), see a dentist or go to the ER as soon as possible.

Swelling often indicates an infection. It can be hard to distinguish a tooth infection from gum infection, as both can cause swelling and pain. Tooth infection may be accompanied by sensitivity to hot or cold or pain on biting. If there is swelling, you should be seen by a dentist within 24 hours.

Your personal dentist may prescribe antibiotics and/or pain medication over the phone; however, antibiotics can take 24 hours to work, so don’t expect immediate relief. If swelling is progressing, then you should be seen as soon as possible.

If your own dentist can’t see you, and you can’t find a local dentist who is available, you should go to an emergency room. While rare, rapidly spreading infections can be life-threatening.

Chips or Breaks

If you’ve lost a crown or filling, or broken a tooth, see a dentist as soon as convenient.

A common “emergency” is when part of a tooth or restoration chips, breaks, or comes loose. Often these are not true emergencies in that there is no infection or medical condition. Unless there is pain, these “emergencies” can usually wait a day or two until your dentist is available.

Usually, these situations are not painful and will not further damage the tooth. However, if there is a sharp edge, it may cut the tongue or cheek, and if the piece missing is in front, it may not look good. Here, patients must decide if they want to seek emergency care or wait until they can see their regular dentist.

When a Tooth Is Knocked Out

Preserve the tooth and get to a dentist or ER immediately.

A true emergency situation is when teeth are knocked out.

For an adult tooth, keep it moist at all times. If it is clean, you can try placing the tooth back in the socket without touching the root. If that’s not possible, place it in between your cheek and gums, in milk, or use a tooth preservation product that has the ADA Seal of Acceptance. Then, get to your dentist’s office right away. 

While dental emergencies can happen, prevention is best and the way to minimize them. Having regular checkups and following through on recommended treatment can prevent many emergencies.

This article was sponsored by Gallery 57 Dental.

Gallery 57 Dental
24 W. 57th St., Suite 701
(Between 6th & 5th Avenues)