Your child falls—and suddenly part or all of a tooth is right there on the ground.
Do you know what to do next?
Cracks, Breaks and Knock-Outs
Not sure if your child’s dentist is available at night or on the weekends? Call right now to ask them what their process is in case your child has an emergency dental situation.
Because time is tooth. If a tooth has been completely knocked out, “we like to try to get it back in immediately or within an hour at most,” said Schafer. Even for cracks or breaks, they like to see children as soon as possible. “The prognosis is worse the longer you wait,” she added.
Your first instinct might be to visit the emergency department. But calling your dentist—as long as your child doesn’t have other medical emergencies related to the injury—should always be your first step. “ERs tend to be limited in what they can do as far as repairing the tooth,” said Schafer.
Do I Need to Save the Tooth?
If you can find it, yes, definitely save the tooth or the broken piece and bring it with you to the dentist’s office.
You may have heard people suggest putting the tooth in milk. “It doesn’t have to be milk, but you should keep it moist,” said Schafer. Some emergency kits also include Sav-a-tooth, a small cup of pH-balanced solution to use in this situation.
Your child may or may not have a lot of pain depending on how badly the tooth cracked or broke, or if there are other injuries, like to the lip or face. It’s OK to give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, said Schafer, and to apply cold compresses for any other injuries as needed.
What Your Child’s Dentist Will Do
Once your child arrives at the dentist’s office, he or she will evaluate your child to see what the best solution is.
“We take into account the age of the child and the extent of the break,” said Schafer. “There are many different scenarios.”
If a tooth is broken, dentists will repair the tooth by bonding back the broken piece. But this all depends on if the tooth was kept moist enough and how quickly you were able to go to the dentist’s office. Even then, it’s still possible the tooth will discolor, and your child may need to have the piece removed later and filled in with a white filling compound. “At the very least, however, it will be a temporary fix so the child can return to school and other activities, then we can schedule an appointment in a non-emergent situation,” said Schafer.
If the tooth has been knocked out and it happened at a sports or other event, it’s a good idea to ask if any dentists are around. That dentist might be able to replace the tooth right then and there—and then you can see your child’s dentist. If not, your child’s dentist will also attempt to replace the tooth, but again that all depends on how quickly you were able to get to the office.
“Still, we almost always expect a re-implanted tooth to need a root canal,” said Schafer. “The good thing is that the tooth is there and looks like it’s supposed to be there. If we try to replace it with anything else down the line, it’s not going to be as nice as your own tooth in there.”
The only exception is if your child knocked out a baby tooth. “We are never going to put that tooth back in because of risk of damage to the permanent tooth, infection or other complications,” said Schafer.
Perhaps the most important strategy though is for parents to stay calm and to help their children stay calm. “But pediatric dentists are trained to handle trauma—that’s what we’re here for,” said Schafer.
“Just remember: Kids can break their teeth in any variety of ways, both inside and outside. It doesn’t matter how broken it is—your first call should be to the dentist.”