How to Handle Tooth Trauma

As children head back to school, it is important to remember that dental emergencies can happen any time, any place. According to the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey,1 one out of 10 children ages 10 or 11 have had a tooth emergency such as a knocked-out tooth, chipped tooth or a loosened permanent tooth at home or at school.

A knocked-out permanent tooth is a true dental emergency, and there’s a good chance it can be saved if you know what to do and act quickly. The primary concern should be getting the child in to see a dentist. Time is crucial if you want the dentist to be able to reinsert and salvage the natural tooth. Ideally, a child needs to be seen within 30 minutes of the accident.1

Whether a tooth is knocked out at school or home, here are several steps to ensure it is saved – or at least in optimal condition – by the time the child can see the dentist.

  • First, check to make sure the child doesn’t have a serious head, neck or other orofacial injury (i.e., a concussion, broken jaw, etc.).
  • Don’t worry about replacing a displaced baby tooth. Trying to reinsert it could damage the permanent pearly white coming in behind it.
  • To avoid infection, the tooth should be held by the crown, not the root. The crown is the part of the tooth visible to the naked eye. You want to leave the root intact, and touching it with bare hands could pass bacteria.2
  • Rinse any debris off of the tooth under room temperature water. Don’t scrub the root! Once the tooth is free of loose dirt and debris, try to reinsert it, asking the child to hold it in place using a piece of gauze if necessary. 3
  • If the tooth cannot be successfully reinserted, it needs to stay moist until the child can visit a dentist. Store the tooth in a clean container and cover it with milk or room temperature water to prevent it from drying out. 4 These liquids aren’t ideal but are often the only ones readily available. If you are a school nurse or your child frequently plays contact sports, purchase an emergency bag  handy with a save-a-tooth kit in it (available at most drugstores.) These contain a solution that is better at preserving any live cells on the tooth root until the dentist can put the tooth back into the socket.

In most cases, tooth injuries are not life threatening. But they can have long-lasting effects on the child’s appearance and self-confidence, so it is important to act quickly in the event of a dental emergency.

1Morpace Inc. conducted the 2013 Delta Dental Children’s Oral Health Survey. Interviews were conducted nationally via the Internet with 926 primary caregivers of children from birth to age 11. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin error is ±3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

2“Saving a Knocked-Out Tooth.” American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/patients/patientinfo/references/avulsed.htm. Accessed 2010.

3 “Medical Encyclopedia: Broken or Knocked Out Tooth.” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2010. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000058.htm. Accessed 2010.

4“Dental Emergencies.” American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/370.aspx Accessed 2010.

9 thoughts on “How to Handle Tooth Trauma

  1. Kids chip and crack their teeth all the time. Usually it’s more scary than it is dangerous, but if a tooth actually pops out (especially an adult tooth!) you need to get into the dentist ASAP.

  2. Great tip about holding the tooth by the crown and not the root. My cousin’s daughter suffered from a severe infection after tooth trauma because her mom touched the root. The bacteria got in there and it was NOT pretty at all.

  3. Unfortunately, dealing with emergency teeth/tooth problems aren’t really covered by many first aid courses. Generally speaking, many people just don’t know what to do so hopefully many will read this and learn.

  4. The emergency trauma cases we see typically have little to no pain. They tend to affect the anterior dentition and can range from minor tooth chips to anterior fractures with pulpal trauma.

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