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Popcorn is a salty all-American indulgence and a must-have at the movies. The more popcorn you eat, the closer you get to the bottom of the bag where the unpopped kernels mix with the last popped pieces. Biting down on an unpopped kernel and getting the sinking feeling of your tooth cracking mixed with sharp pain is likely not the way you expected the movie to end. Your cracked tooth, often a molar, can break into two or crumble into multiple pieces. You may even find yourself carrying your entire tooth in your pocket while you make your way to the nearest exit.

Dental emergencies vary greatly — from a broken molar caused by a simple kernel of popcorn to several teeth knocked out during sports practice, chances are the tooth’s nerve will be exposed and cause pain such as sharp jolts, swelling, throbbing and severe toothache. In rare cases, you may need to call for emergency medical services (for example, if there is injury to the jawbone). In addition to broken teeth, other emergencies might include: abscess, wisdom tooth pain, a broken orthodontic wire, a lost filling or crown and injury to the gums or soft tissue.

Tips for a dental emergency:

  • Use a pain reliever that does not contain an NSAID, which can contribute to bleeding
  • Save tooth and any tooth pieces, lightly rinsing with milk (water can damage the root of the tooth)
  • Use warm water to rinse your mouth
  • If bleeding, gently apply pressure to the affected area (preferably with gauze)
  • Apply a cold compress against the outside of your mouth in case of swelling
  • Do not put any painkiller (such as aspirin) directly on the gum as it may cause damage
  • Although rinsing is recommended, do not scrub any pieces of tooth as this may result in loss of necessary tooth tissue