Emergency dentists know that dental emergencies can be scary, causing many to feel frozen in the face of a decision that needs to be made quickly. Dentists regularly treat a variety of problems; in fact, many offer “after-hours” or emergency services. The question that remains, then, is when does a problem require the immediate attention of an emergency dentist?

As with any medical emergency, time is of the essence when dealing with injury or infection to the teeth or gums. In fact, it’s usually better to err on the side of caution and have it checked out by an emergency dentist. Why? Postponing or putting off treatment places one at significant risk of permanent damage. Plus, an untreated injury or infection usually ends up necessitating more involved—and more expensive—treatments once it is finally addressed.

So, then, what does one do when faced with pain, or an unexpected injury? Here are some common situations that emergency dentists recommend seeking treatment for right away:

Toothaches: If you’ve had a toothache due to decay/cavities, you know the pain is not easily ignored. By the time a tooth is causing agony to the sufferer, it needs attention. Keep the mouth clean, apply an icepack or other cold compress to help numb the pain (ibuprofen is usually recommended, as well), and go see your dentist for treatment.

Broken tooth: Teeth can chip when accidently knocked; depending on the size of the chipped or broken piece, it can be beneficial to bring the piece to your dentist. Similar to a toothache, keep the mouth clean, apply cold, and take something to reduce pain if necessary. If there’s bleeding, apply pressure to some gauze or a cloth to stop it. The level of pain and bleeding is the clue to deciding the imminent need for attention.

Knocked out tooth: In the case of a knocked out tooth, chances of it being saved and reinserted become greater the sooner the victim gets to the dentist. If at all possible, try and put the tooth gently back in its place. If this isn’t possible, due to pain or bleeding, then preserve the tooth in a glass of milk and go immediately for treatment. Dentists can often reinsert a tooth successfully if they’re able to do so within an hour of it being knocked out.

Abscess: This is a serious infection that occurs at the root of a tooth, but can grow to infect surrounding teeth and tissues, as well as spread to other parts of the body. Painful gums are a sign that you may have an abscess, and it is imperative that dental treatment is sought right away.

Soft tissue damage: This is damage that occurs to inner cheeks, gums, the tongue and even lips. Damage to these usually involves much blood, so the focus first is to staunch the bleeding with gauze or cloth and cold compresses. If bleeding doesn’t slow down, then an immediate visit to the dentist is your best option.

In a nutshell, call if you’re not sure you have an emergency on your hands. As with most things, the earlier a problem is dealt with, the better the outcome will be.