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Dental Trauma: What To Do

Posted February 1, 2016

What to Do When a Tooth is Damaged or Knocked Out

Toddlers and little ones who are just getting used to walking and keeping their balance fall down from time to time. It’s part of growing up. Typically, these falls are minor, maybe at worst resulting in a bump or bruise, but occasionally an accident can cause a more serious injury. If the fall involves impact to the mouth, a tooth (or teeth) can get chipped or even completely knocked out. Whenever there’s damage to teeth because of an impact, it’s called dental trauma.

Incidents of dental trauma proportionately happen more often in little kids (about age 2 to 6) than in any other age group. But trauma happens to older kids too, and it’s more likely to happen when playing sports or doing other physical activities.

Because dental trauma can impact different teeth and cause different levels of damage, there is no one-size-fits all approach. But even for mild trauma, we recommend seeing us at Ascension Children’s Dental or another dental professional as soon as possible. There could be injuries to neighboring teeth that only a complete dental exam can uncover.

What if the trauma results in a broken tooth or worse? Acting quickly is important. Here are some steps to follow:

If a primary (baby) or permanent tooth is chipped

Fragments from a tooth can be glued back in to place by a dental professional using special cement.

  1. Find the tooth fragment.
  2. Store the fragment in whole milk. If milk is not available, saline solution can be used. Alternatively, the person who chipped a tooth can store the fragment in his or her mouth between the cheek and the gum where it will be bathed in saliva. But this method should not be used for young children or anyone who might swallow the fragment.
  3. Find emergency treatment.

If a permanent tooth is knocked out

Try to reinsert the tooth to save it. Work quickly but carefully. If the tooth is reinserted within 15 minutes, the chances of keeping it are much higher than if you wait an hour or more.

  1. Find the tooth, and handle it by the crown, not the root.
  2. If it’s dirty, give it a quick rinse in cold tap water (no more than 10 seconds).
  3. Reinsert the tooth into the socket as it was before.
  4. Have the child bite on gauze or a handkerchief to keep the tooth in place.
  5. If the tooth can’t be reinserted, it is best to store it in whole milk. If this is not possible, the tooth can be stored in saline solution or in the child’s mouth between the cheek and the gum where it will be bathed in saliva. Take care that it is not swallowed.
  6. Take the child to his/her dentist for emergency dental care or a hospital emergency room if it’s after hours.

If a primary (baby) tooth is knocked out

Unlike with a permanent tooth, you should not try to reinsert a baby tooth. Doing so could potentially damage the permanent tooth that will grow in behind it. Still, the child should visit Ascension Children’s Dental or another pediatric dentist as soon as possible.

These steps might be hard to remember, especially in the frantic moments immediately following an accident. For quick reference, you can visit the Emergency Info page.