Common dental emergencies

Am Fam Physician. 2003 Feb 1;67(3):511-6.


Dental caries, a bacterial disease of teeth characterized by destruction of enamel and dentine, is often the underlying cause of dental pain. When a carious lesion impinges on the dental pulp, pulpitis follows and, ultimately, necrosis of the pulp occurs. Untreated necrosis may lead to a localized abscess or a spreading infection into the surrounding soft tissue that results in cellulitis. Immediate treatment involves antibiotic therapy for cellulitis, perhaps with drainage of abscesses, while definitive treatment requires root canal therapy or extraction of the involved tooth. Pericoronitis is an inflammation of the soft tissue overlying a partially erupted tooth. Localized cases respond to irrigation. Secondary cellulitis can develop. Definitive treatment may require surgical extraction of the underlying tooth or excision of the gum flap. Avulsion of a permanent tooth secondary to trauma is a true dental emergency. The tooth should be reimplanted on the spot, and the patient should be seen immediately by a dentist for splinting and antibiotic prophylaxis. Most dental problems can be prevented with regular dental care and steps to minimize risks of oral trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / complications
  • Abscess / therapy
  • Dental Caries / complications
  • Dental Caries / therapy*
  • Emergencies
  • Humans
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Management
  • Pulpitis / complications
  • Pulpitis / therapy
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Tooth Injuries / complications
  • Tooth Injuries / therapy*