Today I had an interesting emergency dental patient. This patient came in with severe swelling of his left cheek. His lower eyelid was swollen. So much that his eye was almost swollen shut. This condition is called cellulitis or an abscess. In this area of the face there are veins that don’t have very good valves and they allow blood to flow in both directions. One of the directions leads to the brain. So it is possible for this type of infection to actually spread to a patient’s brain. Untreated it can be life-threatening. We drained the infection by beginning a root canal. I expect that this patient’s swelling and pain will resolve in a couple of days and then we can complete the treatment on this tooth and things will turn out just fine.
What made this case interesting was that this patient said that he had been filling the hole that was in the tooth with some over-the-counter dental paste for at least 4 years. He had done a nice job with the paste, but the problem is the paste does not get rid of the cavity and so over the past 4 years his cavity had been getting worse and worse. The reason that the packaging on those grocery store dental pastes advises you to see your dentist as soon as possible is to prevent the problem from getting worse leading to a trip to see an emergency dentist. I imagine if rather than placing the paste when he first noticed the hole 4 years ago he went to see a dentist things would be different. 4 years ago the tooth could probably been treated with a filling. Now it needs a root canal, build-up, and crown. The costs will be almost 10 times as much. The time missed from work will be 3-5 times as much and he put his overall health at risk. I completely understand how life can get in the way and it’s easy to put off things.
The moral of the story is that if you have a tooth break or notice a hole, seek dental care immediately or quickly. It will cost less, and be less likely to interfere with your life and general health. But if life gets in the way and you need a good emergency dentist, we’ll be here.