Dental emergencies what you need to know and do

Some dental problems require the urgent and immediate attention of a dental professional.
SA Dental Service uses a validated screening assessment to triage dental emergencies.

Facial swelling

A facial swelling can be very serious, even life-threatening, and must be assessed by a dental professional straight away.

A tooth abscess is a bacterial infection. It is usually caused by tooth decay, but can also happen if a tooth is knocked or broken.

In both cases, damage to the nerve (pulp) inside the tooth can cause the nerve to die and lead to an infection.

Abscesses can also result from a bacterial infection of difficult to clean gum pockets (periodontitis or pericoronitis).

If the abscess is not treated by a dental professional, the infection can spread to the cheek, face and jaw.

Pain relief medication and/or antibiotics may temporarily reduce symptoms but will

not remove the cause of the problem.

Trauma to face or teeth (knocked out tooth, fractured tooth or jaw)

Seek dental advice as soon as possible after any dental injury.

Sports accidents, falls, assault or eating hard foods can result in traumatic injury of teeth, jaw or surrounding soft tissues.

If the person has been unconscious seek medical advice first.

Adult teeth

If an adult tooth has been knocked out:

  • Rinse the tooth in milk or saline solution, or very briefly in water
  • If the person is fully conscious, put the tooth back in place using the other teeth as a guide.


  • Go straight to the dental clinic with tooth in milk and sealed in plastic wrap.
  • If the person is partly or fully unconscious, call an ambulance and do not touch the teeth.

Do not:

  • transport the tooth in water
  • scrape or scrub the root surface
  • allow the tooth to dry out
  • delay seeking dental treatment/advice.

Baby teeth

  • Most children under five years have baby teeth only.
  • Do not put a baby tooth back into the mouth.
  • If in doubt, place the tooth in milk and take it and your child to seek dental advice.

Who to contact

For SA Dental Service clinics, go our clinic list page. To locate a private dentist, contact the Australian Dental Association. For urgent advice after hours call healthdirect Australia 1800 022 222

In the case of a facial swelling after hours, go straight to a GP or local hospital emergency department.