If you chip a tooth, is it a dental emergency? The answer is, "maybe." Even when it's not a matter that requires immediate attention, you will still need to have the tooth inspected, but there are times when a chipped tooth warrants a visit to an emergency dentist. So how can you tell the difference?
Is It a Mystery?
You might know the precise moment you chip your tooth, especially if it happens while you're eating or you're involved in an accident. But then again, just when it happened might be a total mystery, and you might only become aware of the chip when you brush your tongue against the sharp edges created by the missing section.
What if it Happened a While Ago?
It can hardly be an emergency when you're unaware of the fact that it actually happened until days or weeks later. The chip itself has probably been swallowed, but the remaining portion of the tooth is still intact, meaning the chamber housing the dental pulp (the nerve that exists inside each individual tooth) is still intact. If this chamber had been exposed, you would be able to feel it, and this feeling would not be pleasant.
Is it Serious?
If you notice a chipped tooth well after the fact, you should still schedule an appointment with your dentist. The enamel (the surface material of the tooth) has been breached, exposing the underlying dentin. Without its protective enamel, your tooth is more prone to damage, and the longer you leave it, the harder this damage is to repair. But what about when you know exactly when your tooth has been chipped because you immediately feel it in a major way?
What if There's Immediate Discomfort?
When a tooth has been chipped and the dental pulp has been exposed, it will be uncomfortable. There is a nerve that is usually protected by a layer of dentin and enamel, and it's not meant to be open in this way. In some cases, the pulp can even bleed. This cannot be compared to an injury on the exterior of your body, which can heal itself. If there is pain and/or bleeding, you must see an emergency dentist as soon as possible. Failure to take quick action can compromise the nerve and the tooth to the point that a root canal might be necessary.
A chipped tooth is only an emergency some of the time, but your body will certainly let you know when it's serious.