It can happen in an instant. Your child is running around on the playground, field or basketball court, and suddenly - wham! - he collides with another child and breaks a tooth - or worse.
Dr. Jeffrey May, a Coast Dental dentist in Riverview, Florida, has treated all sorts of dental injuries. "I have five kids myself and I know the kinds of injuries you can get from tripping over a toy or running into a wall or bumping heads. I've seen kids on the playground catch a ball in the face or fall off a swing. If they're playing sports, they can catch an elbow in the face or get hit with a racquet."
It's not just kids who injure their mouths. A squirming toddler may knock mom's chin hard, causing her to chip a tooth. An adult who trips or who hits a patch of sand while biking might dislodge a tooth or even knock it out. And the number one cause of broken teeth in adults is decay. What began as a small cavity can spread, weakening the tooth so much that it cracks when you bite into food.
So what should you do if you chip, loosen or knock out a tooth?
"Call your dentist immediately," said Dr. May. "A dentist will be able to see if the tooth is fractured and may be able to stabilize the tooth through bonding so it will reintegrate with the bone. The best thing you can do is come in and get it checked."
Timing is important. Click here for a field guide to dental injuries that shows when you need to take immediate action, when you need urgent treatment within six hours, and less urgent situations where you should get checked out by a dentist within 12 hours.
Why does the timing matter?
If you've knocked out a tooth, you have a small window of about 30 minutes to try to get it replanted. The field guide shows the steps you should take as soon as the tooth comes out.
If the tooth is pushed out of alignment, your bite will be affected and the swelling and inflammation could worsen if it's not treated quickly. "Most of the time, if you don't do anything, you'll end up losing the tooth," Dr. May said. "Definitely call your dentist's emergency number and get it checked. The dentist can hopefully bond it or apply a stent to stabilize it and save the tooth."
The cost of stabilizing a tooth is less than the cost of a root canal. If you wait so long that even a root canal can't save your tooth, then you'll need to have the tooth extracted and replaced with a bridge or dental implant – and that costs even more.
So take a minute to print out this field guide to dental injuries and put it into your car or hang it on your fridge - someplace where you can easily access it should you need it!
Jeffrey May, DMD, provides general dentistry services to patients age 10 and up. Services include bone grafting, laser crown lengthening, dental implant restorations, dental implants, extractions, gummy smile treatment, veneers, Lumineers, periodontal disease management, ridge augmentation, root canal therapy and retreatment, soft tissue graft, and laser therapy. Dr. May has extensive training in cosmetic dentistry and in the advanced use of digital imaging, which enables patients to preview their smile prior to the start of treatment. He is also skilled in the use of digital x-ray and intra-oral imaging. Dr. May is fluent in English and Spanish and has traveled to the Dominican Republic to provide free dental care on mission trips. He practices at Coast Dental Riverview, 10625 Big Bend Road, Riverview, FL 33579. The phone number is 813-549-0931.
Written by: Beth Gaddis
Reviewed by: Jeffrey May, DMD
Reviewed by: Cindy Roark, DMD