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Is a Chipped Tooth a Dental Emergency, Or Is It Okay to Delay?

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You only get two sets of teeth in your lifetime, so if an adult tooth falls out (or is knocked out), it's clearly a significant event and requires an immediate visit to an emergency dentist. But what about when only a portion of the tooth is lost? Is a chipped tooth a dental emergency, or is it okay to delay treatment until your regular dentist can see you?

The Moment It Happens

It's unlikely that you'll fail to notice the moment when a section of your tooth chips away. This is especially true in the event of an accident—a sharp blow to the mouth that had caused the chip. However, you might be minding your own business while you eat something, only to feel a section of your tooth detach without warning. It's what happens next that determines whether the issue is an emergency.

The Tooth Is Now More Vulnerable

A chipped tooth may be largely superficial and limited to the tooth's surface enamel—possibly also removing a section of the tooth's underlying dentin. It's likely to create a sharp edge on the tooth which may irritate your tongue, but this might be the extent of your discomfort. Now that a portion of the tooth's protective enamel is gone, the tooth is far more vulnerable to decay, as well as develop an infection, which will begin to affect the tooth's nerve. But this doesn't happen immediately. If there's no discomfort, you must see your dentist without much delay—even though this doesn't typically constitute a dental emergency.

Immediate and Obvious Discomfort

For some patients, a chipped tooth can trigger immediate and obvious discomfort. This suggests that the tooth's nerve has been exposed, allowing it to register the sensations that its dentin and enamel would ordinarily protect it from. Eating and drinking can be uncomfortable, and even something as plain and unavoidable as closing your mouth can create severe discomfort as your upper and lower dental arches come into contact with each other. This is very much a dental emergency. Don't be tempted to delay treatment. You don't want to live with this level of discomfort, which may worsen until you can get an appointment with your regular dentist.

What a Dentist Can Do for a Chipped Tooth

It's not always possible, but if you can remove the chipped section of tooth from your mouth, please do so. An emergency dentist may be able to reattach the section, cementing it back onto the tooth. When the section was swallowed or otherwise lost, the dentist can replace it with a composite dental resin. This will be applied to the tooth and shaped so that the tooth's mass is restored. If the tooth has untreated decay (which may have caused the chip), this will need to be addressed, so you may need to have a cavity filled in addition to having the chipped section restored. An emergency dentist can also provide pain relief, which is likely to be your first priority.

A chipped tooth is a dental emergency if your level of pain makes daily life impossible. It can be a serious matter, so if there's any doubt about whether urgent treatment is needed, it's best to err on the side of caution and have the problem corrected without any delay. Keep these tips in mind when looking for an emergency dentist near you.