February 3, 2010

Dental Injuries 101

Management of Dental Injuries

Dental injuries can occur at any time. Eating, exercising, playing, or taking part in other daily actions can fracture, chip, loosen, or even knock out (avulse) permanent teeth.

If you get one of these types of dental injuries, see a dentist as soon as you can. Treatment will vary and depends on the type and severity of the damage.

Loose Tooth

If one of your teeth is pushed out of place, apply light pressure to the tooth to coax it back to its correct place. You may also bite down with care to help stop the loose tooth from moving even more.

Then, try to see your dentist right away. If the dentist can’t see you soon, visit an emergency room.

Avulsed Tooth

If a tooth is knocked out of place (avulsed), be sure to touch just the crown, not the root. This will help to avoid damage to the cells that are needed for bone reattachment. Remove any dirt that gets on the tooth with a careful rinse. Do not scrub the tooth, since that might remove gum tissue.

When a tooth has been avulsed, it is important not to allow it to dry out. Gently try to place the tooth back into its socket. If you can’t do that, hold the tooth between the cheek and gum so it will stay moist.

You can also put the tooth in some milk, saliva, or saline solution (the kind used for contact lenses). If there is time, wrap the tooth in clean gauze or a bit of cloth first. Be sure to use a lid.

For the best chance to repair this type of damage, visit the dentist within an hour.

Chipped or Fractured Tooth

If your tooth is chipped or fractured, save the chip (if possible) and get to a dentist right away. Wrap the chip in clean, wet gauze or place it in a small plastic bag with a few drops of water so that it does not dry out.

As with an avulsed tooth, time is of the essence when you chip a tooth. The more time that passes, the more damage can occur.  Avoid permanent nerve damage, which can be hard to repair and costly.

If the break does not cross a nerve, a dentist can re-attach it. To do this, she’ll first etch the enamel on the tooth and on the chip. Then she’ll use a light-cured adhesive to secure the chip to the tooth. Dentists can also replace the chipped part with a technique called bonding.

Cracked Tooth

If biting causes pain, the cause may be a cracked tooth. Chewing on hard objects, a blow to the face, tooth grinding or clenching, exposure of tooth enamel to temperature extremes, or brittleness due to root canal therapy can all lead to a cracked tooth.

Your dentist may opt for bonding or a root canal based on the crack’s location and size. If your tooth is badly cracked, your dentist may need to extract it.