Is a Chipped Tooth an Emergency?

Concerned woman in a dental chair touching the mouth area.

Teeth are designed to endure excessive pressure to chew tough food. However, direct impact to a tooth can crack or chip the structure. If you or your child damage a tooth, you may wonder if you need urgent dental care. Is a chipped tooth an emergency or can you wait to seek dental treatment?

Causes of Chipped Teeth

There are many circumstances that can result in a damaged tooth. Many chipped teeth occur from biting down on a hard item like a popcorn kernel – a weak portion of the tooth can break off when pressure is placed on it. Other common causes of chipped teeth include:

  • Falls
  • Sports injuries
  • Violent encounters
  • Vehicle accidents

Kids often chip teeth. Falling off a bike or skateboard can result in a chipped or broken tooth. Roughhousing can end up with kids hitting their teeth on solid items that can cause damage. When is a child’s chipped tooth an emergency?

Chipped, Cracked or Broken?

A chipped tooth is different than a cracked or broken tooth. Chips are small pieces of tooth that are broken off, usually a layer of enamel. While you do want to repair a chipped tooth, as it may be vulnerable to decay due to missing enamel, a small chip does not require emergency dental care.

Cracked or broken teeth are more severe injuries that may require emergency dental treatment. Cracks and broken teeth can expose the inner portion of the tooth to bacteria, leading to infection. If not repaired quickly, you could jeopardize the health of the tooth.

While a chipped tooth may not need urgent dental care, it is possible the tooth has a crack from the injury. Even if you cannot see a crack, the impact or pressure that chipped the tooth may have also created a small crack. This is why all damaged teeth should be examined by a dentist as soon as possible.

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When Is a Chipped Tooth an Emergency?

There are times when you should seek urgent dental care for a damaged or chipped tooth. It is advised to have all damaged teeth repaired quickly, but there are signs that a chipped tooth may need emergency dental care. If the damaged tooth has any of the following symptoms, call your dentist:

Intense Oral Pain
A chipped tooth should not be painful for long. While the initial impact to the tooth may hurt, it should not continue to be painful. If you have intense pain from a chipped tooth, there is likely more damage you cannot see that needs immediate medical attention from a dentist.
Bleeding
If you have a chipped or broken tooth, bleeding may occur, but it should be brief. If your damaged tooth continues to bleed after the injury, it is important to find emergency dental care to examine your tooth and receive treatment.
Large Chips
There is a fine line between a chipped and broken tooth. When the chip is closer to a chunk, you may have a broken tooth instead of a chipped tooth and you should see a dentist as soon as possible. The more surface that is removed, the higher the risk for damage to the interior of the tooth.

Caring for a Chipped Tooth

If you or your child chips a tooth, you should schedule a dental appointment for repair. While it may not be an emergency, you do want to repair the damage. Until you can see your dentist, you should provide care for your damaged tooth. To protect your tooth until your dental visit, follow these tips:

  • Use an ice pack to reduce swelling – you can wrap an ice pack in a towel and hold to your cheek for 15 minutes at a time.
  • Rinse with salt water to prevent infection. Mix one teaspoon of salt with eight ounces of warm water. Swish the salt water around in your mouth for at least 30 seconds and then spit it out.
  • Use non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as needed to relieve pain and inflammation if it does not interfere with any other health condition or medications.
  • Brush and floss normally to remove bacteria and plaque that may irritate the exposed tooth.

You can minimize discomfort and protect the tooth until the scheduled dental appointment with the previous tips. If at any point the tooth begins to bleed or cause intense pain, you should call your dentist for an urgent dental care appointment.

Satisfied woman in a dental chair  after tooth repair procedure  looking at her teeth in a mirror.

Chipped teeth can be quickly repaired with fillings or dental bonding in most cases. If there is a crack or deeper damage, the chipped tooth may repair more extensive repairs, such as a dental crown or onlays/inlays to replace lost tooth material.

Intense pain from a broken tooth, bleeding and cracks are all signs you should seek emergency care for your chipped tooth. Otherwise, schedule an appointment to have your chipped tooth repaired as soon as possible.