Back to school: How to handle tooth trauma

By Delta Dental of Illinois

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — As children head back to school, it is important to remember that dental emergencies can happen any time, any place. According to the 2013 Children’s Oral Health Survey, one in 10 children ages 10 or 11 have had a tooth emergency such as a knocked-out tooth, chipped tooth or a loosened permanent tooth at home or school.

A knocked-out permanent tooth is a true dental emergency, and there’s a good chance it can be saved if you know what to do and act quickly,” said Dr. Katina Spadoni, DDS, dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois.

The primary concern should be getting the child to a dentist. Time is crucial if you want the dentist to be able to reinsert and salvage the natural tooth. Ideally, a child needs to be seen within 30 minutes of the accident.

Whether a tooth is knocked out at school or home, following are several steps to help ensure it is saved — or at least in optimal condition — by the time the child can see the dentist:

• Check to make sure the child doesn’t have a serious head, neck or other orofacial injury (i.e., a concussion, broken jaw, etc.).

• Don’t worry about replacing a displaced baby tooth. Trying to reinsert it could damage the permanent pearly white coming in behind it.

• To avoid infection, the tooth should be held by the crown, not the root. The crown is the part of the tooth visible to the naked eye. You want to leave the root intact, and touching it with bare hands could pass bacteria.

• Rinse any debris off the tooth under room-temperature water. Don’t scrub the root. Once the tooth is free of loose dirt and debris, try to reinsert it, asking the child to hold it in place using a piece of gauze, if necessary.

• If the tooth cannot be successfully reinserted, it needs to stay moist until the child can visit a dentist. Store the tooth in a clean container, and cover it with milk or room-temperature water to prevent it from drying out. These liquids aren’t ideal, but are often the only ones readily available. If you are a school nurse or a coach, or your child frequently plays contact sports, purchase a save-a-tooth kit (available at most drug stores). These contain a solution that’s better at preserving live cells on the tooth root until the dentist can put the tooth back into the socket.

If there is a head, jaw or neck injury, take the child to the emergency room immediately,” Dr. Spadoni said. “In most cases, tooth injuries are not life-threatening. They can have long-lasting effects on the child’s appearance and self-confidence, though, so it is important to act quickly in the event of a dental emergency.”

For additional information about protecting children’s teeth, visit

From the Aug. 28-Sept. 3, 2013, issue

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