What is an Endodontic Emergency?

Sometimes people ask, “What is an endodontic emergency?” A dental emergency of any kind can be stressful and painful, so a little advance planning before you face a crisis can make a big difference in how smoothly you navigate the experience.

Any kind of emergency requires a quick response. In the case of either a medical or a dental emergency, swift action gives you the best chance of getting the treatment you need to restore your health. This article isn’t a substitute for dental care, but we hope it is a resource that will help you respond quickly if you or a loved one face an endodontic emergency.

When treating an endodontic emergency, the goal is to provide relief from the pain and treat infections quickly. Let’s dive into how you can prepare so you aren’t caught off-guard.

Signs and Symptoms of an Endodontic Emergency

First, it helps to understand some of the signs or symptoms of an endodontic emergency. If you notice any new, concerning symptoms, please seek dental or medical care.

In the case of an endodontic emergency, you will most likely experience pain or discomfort in the teeth or gums. Here are some signs to look for when you’re wondering, “What is an endodontic emergency?”:

  • Persistent or intermittent pain
  • Pus coming out of a tooth or gums
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • Visible tooth damage or discoloration
  • Swelling or tenderness in the gums around a tooth
  • Swelling of the face
  • Fever or high temperature, which may be a sign of infection
  • Recent accident or trauma to a tooth, your mouth, or your head
  • New bleeding in your gums

If you notice any combination of these symptoms, make an appointment with your endodontist or dentist. You may have noticed that some are common symptoms of oral health problems, such as bleeding gums or sensitivity to temperatures. This is why it is crucial that you talk with your dental provider.

Be sure to discuss the severity of the symptoms and all of your symptoms, even if you are not sure if they are related. Your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for an emergency root canal or other restorative treatment, depending on the intensity of your symptoms, especially if they are new symptoms that appeared after an accident or other trauma.

Causes of Endodontic Emergency

There are so many situations that can cause an endodontic emergency. It can happen after a root canal or other restorative treatment while waiting between treatments, or even before you see an endodontist.

It may be caused by an accident, trauma, failed treatment, or a quickly progressing infection of the dental pulp, roots, or other tissues surrounding the infected tooth.

The important thing is to seek care immediately before the infection gets worse.

What Kind of Emergency Treatment Does an Endodontist Provide?

Two common emergency endodontic treatments include a pulpotomy or a pulpectomy. Both treat the diseased pulp inside the tooth. 

A pulpectomy is similar to a root canal; all the pulp tissue is removed within the tooth’s roots. This treatment is best when the infection has spread throughout the root canal system. This is done in an emergency situation and has to be followed up with a complete root canal. 

A pulpotomy involves removing a small portion of the inflamed pulp rather than the entire pulp. It shares many characteristics with a pulpectomy, but it is used mainly to treat baby teeth, unlike a pulpectomy, which usually is used in adult teeth. If a pulpotomy is performed in an adult tooth, it is usually in an emergency situation and has to be followed up with a complete root canal. 

If you have a tooth that was previously treated with a root canal and it develops pain or infection, a retreatment could be what you need in an emergency situation. A retreatment is a redo of an old root canal that is failing

Since many endodontic practices reserve availability to treat emergencies, it is always worth reaching out right away if you or a loved one had a traumatic incident or are suffering a new or intensifying infection. Your endodontist may be able to fit you in within 24-48 hours.

What to Do During a Dental Emergency

If you have just experienced a dental emergency, first, remain calm, get the situation under control, and call your dentist or a local endodontist. It helps to include emergency dental care numbers in your phone’s contact list, just in case.

Lost Tooth

If a tooth gets knocked out or falls out, follow this advice from the American Association of Endodontists (AAE). They recommend that you see a dentist or endodontist within 30 minutes. In the meantime,

  • Pick up the tooth by the crown, but avoid touching the root
  • If the tooth is dirty, gently rinse it with a sterile solution like Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution or milk, but don’t scrub. Never rinse with water.
  • Try to reposition the tooth within the socket gently

Cracked Tooth

If a tooth cracks, gently rinse your mouth with warm water, then use a cold compress to help fight swelling, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

Sports Injury or Car Accident

Unexpected trauma can damage your tooth, soft tissues, or your tongue. If you have a tongue injury, your top priority should be to stop any bleeding. According to Colgate, try applying pressure to the wound with a sterile cloth. Use salt water to clean the area and reduce the risk of infection. 

See a doctor or dentist if you can’t stop the bleeding, there is an infection or a large laceration, as you may need to go to the emergency room.

Also, if you have trauma to the head, it is essential to go to the emergency room immediately to rule out possible concussion or other serious injuries. Your ER team can connect you with emergency dental care if you need it.


If you have a severe toothache, the ADA suggests rinsing your mouth with warm water using an over-the-counter pain medication to control the pain while waiting to see your dentist or endodontist.

If you are experiencing pain that you have been avoiding getting treated, please schedule an appointment with your dentist. Sometimes, people delay treatment, which can turn a minor issue into an emergency as it progresses. Remember, most dental issues do not resolve on their own without treatment.

Depending on the source of your dental pain, your dentist may suggest a root canal. If so, we encourage you to see an endodontist. An endodontist is a dentist with additional training who specializes in saving natural teeth through root canals and other restorative procedures.

If you have reason to believe you may need a root canal, schedule a consultation with a local endodontist right away before it becomes an emergency infection. Ballantyne Endodontics proudly serves the Charlotte, NC, community, and we take pride in ending pain and saving teeth. Contact us today if you are in our local area and may need endodontic care.