When Is Your Child's Dental Problem An Emergency?

It can be hard to tell how serious a child's toothache is. Some children are more sensitive to pain than others; some are stoic and minimize their discomfort. And if your child doesn't look forward to going to the dentist, they may try to play down their toothache to avoid an appointment.

In general, many toothaches are temporary and go away. Minor toothaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication; a dental appointment is only necessary if they last more than a day. However, some dental problems are more serious – so serious that you shouldn't wait even a day before calling your dentist. So what signs can you look for to tell whether your child has a dental emergency?


Fever is a sign of a potential serious infection, so if your child's toothache is accompanied by a fever, this is a real emergency. Bacterial infections that have entered the bloodstream can spread rapidly and become very serious in a short amount of time.


Small amounts of bleeding are not a very big deal; they may be signs of gingivitis or even of the transition between baby and adult teeth. Bleeding that is heavy or that refuses to stop, however, is potentially life-threatening. If your child's mouth is bleeding and you're unsure about how serious it is, apply gauze and wait for fifteen minutes; if the bleeding has not stopped or slowed down greatly, consider it an emergency.

Facial Swelling

If your child's face looks swollen when their mouth is closed normally, this is also a sign of a potentially large infection. Small amounts of swelling such as a swollen gum around a single tooth are less serious; you can wait until the dentist's office opens and call for an appointment. But larger swellings or abscesses are a serious problem and should be considered an emergency.

Non-Responsive Pain

It can be hard to judge the severity of someone else's pain. One thing you can look for is pain that doesn't respond to treatment. If you give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever and their pain doesn't diminish over the next few hours, that's a sign that they are in severe pain. In addition, you know how your child reacts to pain, so your instincts about their level of pain are probably more accurate than you might think. Severe pain has a variety of potential causes, but regardless of the cause, it is a dental emergency.

What To Do If Your Child Has A Dental Emergency

The first thing to do if you think your child may have a dental emergency is to call your kid's dentist. If they aren't available, don't wait for the office to open – take your child to an emergency dental clinic or emergency room. However, it's preferable to contact your child's dentist if possible as they already have your child's dental history; even if it's not normal business hours, calling the office may give you a message telling you how to contact your dentist in an emergency.