More than 5 million teeth are knocked out every year among children and adults. Dentists refer to a knocked-out tooth as an “avulsed” tooth. If you lose a tooth due to an accident or injury, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s lost for good. Taking the right action and getting proper emergency care can save the tooth so that it can be replanted successfully and last for years to come. We take a look at what you should do if a tooth is knocked out, and how it can be salvaged.

What should I do after my tooth is knocked out?

When a tooth has been knocked out, the nerves, blood vessels and supporting tissues are damaged, too. The nerves and blood vessels can’t be repaired, which is why all avulsed teeth will need a root canal. However, the bone can reattach to the root of the tooth once it’s put back into place. The odds of saving a tooth are highest in young children, but adult teeth can be saved as well. Only permanent teeth should be re-implanted. It is important to get to the dentist as quickly as possible after a tooth has been knocked out. It is also critical to avoid damaging the tooth even more. Follow these suggestions to improve the chances of saving your tooth:

  • Handle the tooth carefully. Try not to touch the root (the part of the tooth that was under the gum). It can be damaged easily.
  • If the tooth is dirty, hold it by the upper part (the crown) and rinse it with milk. If you don’t have any milk, rinse it with water. Don’t wipe it off with a washcloth, shirt or other fabric. This could damage the tooth.
  • Keep the tooth moist. Drop it into a glass of milk. If you can’t do this, place the tooth in your mouth, between the cheek and gum. A young child may not be able to safely “store” the tooth in his or her mouth without swallowing it. Instead, have the child spit into a cup. Place the tooth in the cup with the saliva. If nothing else is available, place the tooth in a cup of water. The most important thing is to keep the tooth moist.
  • Try slipping the tooth back into its socket. In many cases, it will slip right in. Make sure it’s facing the right way. Don’t try to force it into the socket. If it doesn’t go back into place easily and without pressure, then just keep it moist (in milk, saliva or water) and get to the dentist as soon as you can.

If the tooth is intact (not broken in pieces), it is always a good idea to try to save it.

What will my dentist do when I get to them?

Putting the tooth back in place sometimes can be simple. Other times it can be complicated, such as when the tooth or bone is broken. Your dentist will use water to flush debris from the socket. Then they will slip the tooth back into place. It is most important to re-implant the tooth as soon as possible. Ideally, this should occur within the hour of the accident.

The dentist may perform a root canal right away, or may decide to wait. The best course to take will depend upon how long the tooth was out of the mouth and other factors. In any case, the dentist will splint the avulsed tooth to the teeth on either side with a soft wire and/or composite material. This will be used to hold the tooth in place for several days. Your dentist will decide how long the splint should remain.

If the bone around the tooth was not fractured, the root usually will reattach firmly to the bone in about three to four weeks. More damage to the area may require six to eight weeks of repair time.

Your dentist should examine the tooth again in three to six months. Unless there are signs of infection, the next visit will occur at your yearly checkup. Your dentist will check periodically over the next few years to ensure that the tooth re-implanted successfully.

What if it is a baby tooth?

If your child loses a baby tooth, after comforting them, find and reinsert the tooth if you can. To control the bleeding, place a piece of sterile gauze over the socket and ask your child to bite down on it or hold it in place.  You should treat the tooth the same way you would a permanent tooth, like the instructions given above. Take your child to see a dentist as soon as possible, and bring the tooth with you. If you can’t find the tooth, it might be stuck in your child’s mouth. Your dentist can take an X-ray to look for it and check for other injuries.

Losing baby teeth is a normal part of growing up, but losing them too early through accident or injury can cause problems. Baby teeth forced into the gum can damage the permanent teeth beneath them. Losing a tooth before it’s ready to come out can lead to other teeth crowding into the vacant spot. The teeth might not leave enough room for the permanent tooth to emerge, which can cause crooked teeth and eating problems. Dentists can prevent this from happening by inserting a space maintainer in your child’s mouth until it’s the right time for the permanent tooth to emerge. A space maintainer is metal appliance that is placed where the tooth is lost to keep the area open prior to the permanent tooth erupting.

Do you have any questions about a knocked-out tooth? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.