While there are many ways that the mouth or teeth can be injured during an accident that might require immediate care, the fact is that most truly emergent dental conditions (abscesses and other forms of rampant bacterial infection) do not evolve overnight, and most are completely preventable.
Unfortunately, when it comes to health and dental care, we all succumb to the '‘'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' philosophy now and then. The problem with that analogy when it comes to our bodies is that we often cannot see the breakage that is already underway until it is too late. Bacterial changes in the mouth begin at a microscopic level, and cracked or weakened teeth are generally not visible to us in the bathroom mirror. These are the signs that an emergency situation is developing. We may not know exactly when the tooth will break or the abscess will occur, but we do know that it won't get better by ignoring it.
Just as we would never wait for a bridge to fall into the river before we make a plan to fix it, we should never wait for a weakened tooth to break or a minor infection to develop into an abscess before we make a plan to treat it. Necessary dental treatment tends only to get more complicated and expensive the longer we wait to have it done. And if we wait too long, the severity of the infection or breakage may make it impossible to save a tooth at all.
When possible, regular dental care combined with a healthy diet and good oral healthcare habits at home are your best defense against a dental emergency. Your dentist and hygienist can help you identify the areas of your mouth that are susceptible to decay, infection, or breakage and help you make a plan to improve the overall health and stability of those areas before further damage occurs.
Of course, emergencies can still happen. Even with regular dental care, it can be a few months between visits and conditions can sometimes change in the mouth in a matter of weeks. Stress, changes in diet, accidents, increased clenching or grinding habits, and medications can all affect the delicate balance in the mouth. Whenever you notice a subtle change in your mouth that recurs or does not go away within a day or two, take notice and call your dental office for advice if the trend continues.
There are some situations where simply taking notice is not enough though, and for that we have created A Guide to Dental Emergencies. Here you will find an index of symptoms that can develop in the mouth, what they can mean, and how soon you should consider seeking dental or medical care. When in doubt, however, you should never hesitate to call your dentist to ask whether or not you should come in for an appointment. Communicating your symptoms and concerns to your dental team is the most important part of your partnership with your dentist in preventing future dental emergencies.