For a parent, seeing a child break or lose a tooth in an accident can be extremely upsetting. And of course it can be very traumatic for the child as well. While it is important to be able to prevent dental injuries in the first place, knowing what to do in case an accident occurs can save your child’s teeth as well as reduce the stress of such a situation.
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to make sure that you are prepared before an accident even occurs. An ounce of prevention of course is best. But in the event of an accident, a quick and proper response can make all the difference.
So that you are prepared, make sure that your dentist has after hour’s coverage meaning that he/she or a partner is available to take care of dental emergencies. Keep your dentist’s emergency number readily available (carry it in your wallet or organizer, for example).
The most common dental emergencies include (1) teeth that have been knocked out due to trauma and (2) teeth that have been broken as a result of an accident. In either case, it is important to know what to do and to act quickly.
Tooth Knocked Out
In case of an accidental tooth injury, try to remain calm and follow these simple steps.
Time is the enemy when a permanent tooth is knocked out because the opportunity to replace it and have it last long term goes down in after as little as one hour after the accident. When a baby tooth is knocked out, it is not replaced because it may cause damage to the developing adult tooth. Bur when a permanent tooth is avulsed, minutes are extremely precious. If a dentist is seen within one hour after an accident, chances are good that the tooth can be re-implanted and saved.
Do NOT rinse the tooth off with water. Instead, if you can, push it back into the socket immediately. To be sure that you have it in correctly, make sure that it matches the adjacent tooth and have the child bite together and be sure the teeth fit together normally. (This is also true in the case of an adult getting their tooth knocked out). If you cannot get it back in, you must keep it wet. Hank’s Balanced Solution is a special liquid that simulates natural body fluids and is designed for this emergency. You should ask that the nurses’ office at school as well as sports teams keep a bottle of this solution on hand for emergencies. However, most people do not carry this product with them. Milk is the next best solution to place the tooth into . If you do not have access to milk, actually placing the tooth in your child’s mouth is the next best thing. The saliva in your mouth actually helps to preserve the tooth. Water is the worst solution and should be avoided, although anything is better than letting the tooth dry out. Then, see a dentist immediately. The sooner the tooth gets put back in the greater the likelihood is that the tooth can be retained. Depending on the age of the child (younger teeth do better generally) and the time it was out of the mouth (under 5 minutes is best), the tooth may be replaced and remain healthy for years. Sometimes root canal is needed and sometimes the life span of the tooth is shortened but the key thing is to get it back in fast and then look for professional help.
The first thing is to save the broken part of the tooth in case it can be used in the repair of the damaged tooth. Keep it moist as above. With chipped teeth the situation is more complicated. If your child is experiencing pain or sensitivity in the affected tooth, see a dentist immediately as this indicates that the tooth nerve may be injured. The dentist can perform a root canal or other necessary procedure to save the tooth. Afterwards, a porcelain crown or bonding material can be sculpted onto the tooth to replace the lost portion.
If there is no pain or sensitivity, the situation is not as critical. You should call your dentist to double check, but in most cases, you can simply schedule a future appointment to repair or replace the lost portion of the tooth.
Preventing Dental Injuries
The best way to prevent a dental emergency is to properly protect your child. Increasingly, dentists are recommending that children engaged in sports wear mouth guards. Once only used in football and ice hockey, mouth guards are now being recommended for other sports as well including rollerblading, basketball, and soccer. Most mouth guards are made of plastic and cover the upper teeth. Not only do mouth guards protect teeth but they also protect lips, gums, and cheeks.
- Dentist made mouth guards are custom made. These mouth guards fit more securely against the teeth affording the best protection. They are more expensive than the over the counter mouth guards, but when you consider what you pay for sports equipment like ice skates, football gear and so on, a custom mouth guard is a very good investment in your child’s dental health.
- Over the counter mouth guards are available in sporting good stores and in drug stores. Often these mouth guards can be boiled to fit allowing them to sit snugly against the teeth. These do not fit as well as custom mouth guards, but they are much better than nothing.
Another way to reduce the risk of dental injury is to watch out for situations that commonly lead to injury. Some of the more common ones are:
- Trips and Falls – Most likely to occur when children are first learning to stand using furniture to maintain balance. If you have an infant make sure to child-proof your home before they become mobile, usually around 12 – 16 months.
- Water Fountains – Often kids injure teeth by banging them into the spout of water fountains as they drink. Sometimes kids behind them accidentally bump into them causing them to injure their teeth.
- Drinking From A Glass or Bottle – Paper or plastic cups are much safer, especially in cars.