Accidents happen. And if the teeth are involved, especially the front teeth, it can be very scary. However, hope is not lost, even if the trauma is as severe as having a tooth completely come out, as most teeth can be saved and repaired as long as a few important steps are followed.
There are different types of dental trauma. The most basic would be a chip of the tooth. This can often be smoothed out, or bonding can be placed on the tooth with no long-term deleterious effect. If the chip is larger, a crown or veneer may be required for strength.
If a tooth is hit with enough force to render it mobile or knocked out of place, it is important to see your dentist as soon as possible. A mobile tooth can be monitored and likely will solidify with time. If the tooth is displaced, it will need to be moved back into its correct position and likely splinted while it heals. If attended to quickly, these situations generally have high chances of success in keeping the tooth long term. In some cases, however, a root canal will be required after the tooth is stabilized. Unfortunately, if the trauma causes a crack in the root of the tooth, it cannot be saved and will have to be removed.
The most severe type of tooth trauma, avulsion, is when a tooth completely comes out. In this case, it is still possible the tooth can be replanted, but time is of the essence. Before a doctor can be seen, a few things can be done to give the tooth a better chance of surviving. First, the tooth should not be cleaned at all. There are cells on a root of the tooth that are important in its ability to reattach to the bone. Your dentist will lightly clean off any other debris before replanting, but you do not want to scrub the tooth. It is also very important to keep the tooth moist until it can be replanted. It can be placed in milk, or if unavailable, into the person’s cheek so that the saliva keeps it moist. Placing it in water is not a good substitute. Saliva or milk is best.
Once the tooth has been re-implanted and stabilized, it will require a root canal. Your dentist will make a determination of when is the best time for that, but it is usually within a few weeks. Following these steps may still not be enough to save the tooth, but they greatly increase the chances of success. All of this only applies to a permanent adult tooth. In the case of a primary or “baby” tooth, re-implanting it can do damage to the permanent tooth growing below, so they are never put back.
Falling or hitting our teeth and causing damage can be a very traumatic experience. If it does happen to you, seeing a doctor or dentist as soon as possible is vital. Most cases of dental trauma can be fixed. In the end, it’s just important to remember not to panic, as in most cases, your smile can be back to normal in a short time.
Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.