Teeth are extremely strong, so it often requires significant force to break a tooth. This level of force might be caused by a bad fall, or biting down on a hard item. As a result, a chipped tooth can be incredibly painful and constitute a dental emergency. 

However, the situation may not be considered a dental emergency if you’re not feeling intense pain or bleeding significantly. The best way to figure out if your chipped tooth will require emergency attention is to reach out to your dental care team and explain the situation. Let’s explore some of the questions that your dentist may ask, and some treatments they may recommend, depending on the severity of your broken or chipped tooth. This will help you feel prepared for what may be a stressful situation! 


What are your symptoms? 

Generally speaking, a chipped tooth is classified as a dental emergency when the damage leaves a tooth’s pulp chamber compromised. A pulp chamber is the part of your tooth that houses its blood vessels and nerves; if this sensitive area is left open, it can quickly lead to infections

Some symptoms that signal a damaged pulp chamber are inflammation, bleeding, and intense toothache pain. These symptoms may start immediately after a force causes your chipped tooth, or may take up to 24 hours to set in. Either way, keep track of any symptoms you experience, as your dental care team will most likely begin by asking about them. 


Emergency visit vs regular dental appointment  

This decision will be at the top of your dentist’s priority list when you first contact them to say that you have a broken or chipped tooth. In addition to asking about your pain levels, they may ask if a tooth has been knocked out, or if you’re experiencing any increased sensitivity when eating or drinking. 

Depending on the extent of the damage that you describe over the phone, your dentist may ask you to come in immediately, for a same-day appointment, or may schedule a regular dental appointment for you in the near future. If your dental care team decides that a regular dental appointment is the right path for your chipped tooth, be sure to alert them if any of your symptoms worsen in the meantime. This may be a sign that the damage is more extensive than you initially thought. 


Emergency treatments 

If a tooth is chipped badly enough to qualify as a dental emergency, it will likely require a root canal. Before this process begins, a local anesthetic will be administered so the procedure should be pain free. During a root canal, the dentist will drill a hole into the damaged tooth and remove any of the soft tissue that remains in the pulp chamber. By combining this with some medication, the dentist is working to kill off any infection that may be trying to set in. 

After covering up this hole, the repaired tooth will likely be covered with a crown. This cap helps to protect the tooth from any additional irritants, while also restoring the tooth’s overall appearance and helping it be fully functional again. If your tooth can no longer be saved, your dentist may have to partner with a Digital Custom Implant Lab that can produce a tooth implant for you. Dental implants are a great option to replace damaged or missing teeth.


Treatment for minor chips 

If a tooth’s damage is less extensive, the dentist will likely smooth the edges of your tooth to help reinforce the overall strength and appearance of it. Depending on the size of the chip, and its location, it may be suggested to cover the tooth with a veneer for the sake of appearance, or to add some additional enamel reshaping to help your overall bite


Where to go for emergency dental care 

If you already have a dentist you go to regularly, visit their website – or call them – to ask about emergency care. Don’t worry if you do not have a regular dentist: Many offices hold some of their operating hours available each day to help accommodate emergencies that may arise. In this instance, you should be able to find intervention at a nearby dental office, and in a timely manner. 

Please keep in mind that a hospital’s emergency room is a viable option for emergency dental care if you are experiencing severe bleeding.  


Getting you the help you need  

Because no two chipped teeth are the same, only a dental professional can determine whether a chipped tooth is a dental emergency. It depends on the intensity and extent of the break, and what symptoms you’re experiencing as a result. No matter what, the best route of care is to connect with your dental care team as soon as possible to figure out what next steps need to be taken. The quicker you can get your chipped tooth treated, the more likely it is that you’ll avoid infection and have a quality recovery. Here at Rhoades DDS, we’re here to help. Contact our team if you’re experiencing a chipped tooth (or any other dental problem!).