The Dreaded Dental Emergency: What to Do With a Damaged or Knocked Out Tooth

Josie Piatt shows off her grin in spite of worries over possibly losing a permanent tooth.

Josie Piatt shows off her grin in spite of worries over possibly losing a permanent tooth.

A dental emergency can be daunting to say the least. I know—not just because I’m a dentist—but from personal experience. Not too long ago, my daughter had an unfortunate encounter with a wooden swing while on the playground. Let’s just say the swing won, the tooth lost. But this wasn’t just any tooth…it was a permanent one. Her very first permanent one. She’s only six years old.

My daughter was shaken up. But I was, too. Suddenly, there I was, her mother and an experienced dentist, struggling with fears about whether the tooth could be saved. She got the best care possible. However, it’s a waiting game. The jury is still out on whether that tooth will survive from the impact of swing.

Meanwhile, what I’ve now experienced but never had before was that sick, frantic feeling a parent gets when a child has damaged or suddenly lost a permanent tooth. So many factors can impact the next steps in the oral health emergency. Now, as a dentist at One Community Health, I can tell you that my lens on caring for children—or anyone for that matter—who is experiencing a dental emergency has changed for good and for the better. I get it.

As mentioned, how a dental provider responds to the emergency depends on what happened. Importantly, it also depends on how the patient is doing physically and emotionally at the moment they get into that dental chair. There’s no way to tell you what you should have done in the situation or what you can do or expect from the tooth that’s chipped, otherwise damaged or even knocked out altogether. But one thing is likely—you can’t fix it on your own or at home. It’s always safer and smarter to see the dentist. That said, here are some tips should you—or anyone you know—be faced with such a situation.

· For a knocked out adult tooth: Keep it moist, ideally in your mouth. Try putting it back in the socket if you can without touching the root. If that’s not happening, place it between your cheek and gums, drop it into a container with a little milk (calcium), or get a tooth preservation container that’s approved by the American Dental Association. Then head to your dentist immediately.

· For a child who has knocked out a tooth: If it’s an adult tooth, follow the advice above. If it’s a baby tooth, keep it moist and get to a dentist right away. It might be challenging to have the child keep it moist in his/her mouth, so opting for either the milk or tooth preservation container might be your best bet.

· For a cracked tooth: Rinse your mouth with clean water, then use a cold compress to keep down the swelling. See your dentist immediately.


· For a toothache: Rinsing the mouth with clean water and gently flossing can help. Avoid putting aspirin on the tooth or gum as it can burn the gum and create further issues. If the pain persists for an unreasonable amount of time or feels unbearable, contact your dentist.

· For a lip you’ve bitten (hard!): Use clean water to rinse it, then use a cold compress. If it’s bleeding a lot, you may need to visit the emergency room so if the bleeding doesn’t stop or it is bleeding an unusual amount, contact your dentist or go to the ER.

· For an object—like food—stuck in your tooth: Gently use dental floss to try and remove it. Don’t use sharp tools to poke and prod at it. This could puncture the gum or inflict unnecessary harm. If you can’t remove it or it doesn’t loosen up on its own, call the dentist.

Accidents are accidents—some just can’t be avoided. I certainly never foresaw a swing hitting my daughter’s tooth as hard as it did. But the good news is you can prevent many potential emergency visits to the dentist by using common sense and watching out for those little ones who may be in your care.

Never put foreign objects in your mouth or use them to pry anything stuck loose. Watch out for hard food items that commonly crack or break teeth (popcorn kernels and hard candy). Don’t use your teeth to open beverage tops, lids or other closed or stuck items—find another tool other than your precious teeth! And finally, wear a mouthguard for sports, particularly high-impact sports (football, soccer, basketball, etc.).

Source: American Dental Association



Robin Piatt, DMD
One Community Health