A dental emergency can happen anytime, anywhere and require quick action. Kids fall, throw toys, run into things, and all of those seemingly innocuous things could result in trauma to their mouth or teeth. A dental emergency is slightly different compared to other medical emergencies because the care needed is highly specialized.
What is a Dental Emergency?
A dental emergency is any form of trauma to the soft tissue in the mouth or teeth that requires quick action. Dental emergencies are time sensitive- especially where teeth are concerned- there’s a short window of time where a tooth can be successfully reimplanted. That’s why knowing how to react and responding swiftly make all the difference.
Some examples include:
- Broken or cracked tooth
- Lost or knocked out tooth
- Bitten Lip or tongue
- Broken or dislocated jaw
How to Handle a Dental Emergency
Broken or Cracked Tooth
A broken or cracked tooth happens when you bite into food in just the right way, or from getting hit in the mouth.
What to do:
- Make an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the tooth
- Have the child gently bite down on a piece of gauze to help with discomfort from any exposed nerve roots and to absorb any blood.
- Find the chipped piece of tooth. While it can’t be reimplanted, the dentist may want to see it to help better identify what happened to the tooth.
- Avoid eating or biting down on the broken tooth. A cracked tooth may or may not involve the root, and you want to prevent further injury to the tooth. We don’t want to tooth to crack further and potentially causing a root fracture.
Lost or Knocked Out Tooth
When a tooth is knocked out, there is a great deal of bleeding that occurs, and you need to deal with it immediately.
- Rinse the area gently with water. Think swish and spit.
- Pack the area with gauze. Remember, pressure helps to stop bleeding.
- Once the bleeding is controlled, look for the tooth.
It is sometimes possible to save the lost tooth and have it reimplanted! Here’s what you need to do:
- Find the tooth
- Hold it by the crown. Try not to touch the root if you can.
- Rinse the root with water if it’s dirty
- If possible, try to put the tooth back in place. Make sure it’s facing the right way, but don’t force the tooth back into the socket. We’re trying to get blood supply back to the tooth as quickly as possible.
- If you can’t set the tooth in the socket, place it in whole milk, egg white, or coconut milk. Each of those substances can preserve the tooth.
- You can also purchase something like Save-a-tooth to keep in your first aid kit.
Call the dentist ASAP and get an appointment immediately. Knocked out teeth have the highest chances of being saved when they’re seen by the dentist and returned to their socket within 1 hour of being knocked out.
Bitten Lip or Tongue
Did you know that a lip or tongue bite can be a dental emergency? Yep! Not only does it hurt, but it can also do significant damage.
Way back in elementary school, a friend sustained an injury in gym class when we were playing floor hockey that involved his lip and tongue needing stitches because he bit through BOTH of them.
If your child bites their tongue or lip, here’s what you need to do:
- Swish the mouth with water.
- Control the bleeding with gauze
- Try to get a look at the injury site. If you can’t because there’s too much blood, you should head to the emergency room.
- If you can see the injury, if it’s longer and deeper than 2cmx2cm, it needs stitches. Head to the ER.
- Check to see if the injury is isolated to the bite or if there’s an additional injury to the teeth or gums. If there is, you may want to call the dentist for their advice on how to proceed with this particular dental emergency. Some may tell you to come to the office. Or they may recommend an oral surgeon who can take care of both the bite and tooth injury.
Broken or Dislocated Jaw
The amount of force required to break or dislocate a jaw is extreme. So, the likelihood that there are other severe injuries in addition to the break is exceptionally high. A broken or dislocated jaw is a dire dental emergency.
You need to call 911 or head to the emergency room immediately. Jaw fractures and dislocations can impact a person’s ability to breathe and can also cause a brain injury. Collect and preserve any teeth that may have been knocked out and get to the emergency room.
This list is not- by any means- an all-inclusive list of dental emergencies. But it does contain the four most common injuries that I saw while working with athletes.
Have you ever dealt with a dental emergency? Let me know in the comments!
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