Dental trauma refers to conditions in which the teeth, gums, and surrounding soft tissues such as the lips and tongue need immediate medical attention. It can also involve fractures of the jaw. Although It has many causes, including infection, disease, and accidents, dental trauma is most common among younger people who participate in sports. Fortunately, some professionals specialize in dental trauma management. The following are five things that you need to know about this condition, including what you can do to prevent it, how you can minimize permanent damage, and what your root canal specialist can do for you if you experience dental injuries.
1. Save the Tooth
One of the first things to remember if a tooth somehow becomes knocked out is that you must save the tooth whenever possible. This can be difficult to remember in the aftermath of a painful sports injury or automobile accident, so it’s essential to make sure that your children thoroughly understand the importance of salvaging the tooth. Fortunately, most school and community coaches are trained in first aid and know precisely how to proceed if dental injuries occur on the playing field.
2. How to Handle an Avulsed Tooth
Teeth that have become knocked out are referred to by dental professionals as “avulsed” teeth. The best-case scenario when this occurs is to find the tooth immediately, rinse it gently with milk or clean, lukewarm water to remove any dirt or debris and place it gently back in its socket before seeking immediate dental care. It is important to avoid handling or even touching the root area. Wiping the tooth off with a tissue or rag could also cause damage.
An avulsed tooth frequently slips right back into the socket, which allows the healing process to begin immediately. However, if the tooth does not easily fit back in the socket, you should keep it moist by placing it in a clean cup with saliva or milk and immediately seeking the services of a dentist who is experienced in handling dental injuries. If nothing else is available, place the tooth in a cup of lukewarm water. Specialized media is also available for this purpose, and schools often carry this in their first aid kits for contact sports teams.
3. At the Dentist’s Office
Getting to the dentist as quickly as possible is extremely important when dealing with any dental trauma, but situations involving avulsed teeth are among the most urgent. Ideally, you should see a dentist within an hour of the tooth being knocked out. Unfortunately, many sporting and other accidents that result in dental injuries do not occur during regular business hours. However, many dental clinics have on-call staff on duty to deal with just such emergencies, so ask your dental care professional about after-hours policies and provisions.
It is often necessary for the dentist to perform a root canal to successfully facilitate the replanting process. This may be done immediately, or the dentist may decide to wait based on several factors, including how long the tooth was actually out of its socket. Regardless of whether a root canal is performed during this visit or at a later time, the dentist will apply a splint to the tooth to hold it in place in most cases. Provided the bone around the tooth wasn’t fractured; it should take about four weeks for the dislodged tooth to become successfully reattached. In some cases, however, it may take as long as eight weeks if the bones or tissues of the surrounding area sustained significant damage.
Because of the possibility that head injuries may have also occurred at the time the tooth became dislodged, your dentist will initially inspect you for other signs of head trauma such as concussion or hemorrhage. You must be cleared of these possibilities before work on your dental injuries can proceed.
Sometimes the tooth is not completely knocked out. When this happens, it’s called an extruded tooth.
4. Extruded Teeth
A tooth that only comes partway out of its socket nonetheless requires immediate dental attention. Resist the temptation to remove the tooth from the socket altogether, even if it is causing discomfort. An ice pack or over-the-counter pain medication may help alleviate pain or discomfort.
5. What Your Dentist Will Do
After ascertaining that you have not experienced a head injury, your dentist will gently clean the area after applying mild local anesthesia. There may be an X-ray to rule out the possibility of a fractured root. Just like with an avulsed tooth, your dentist will install a splint designed to hold the tooth in place for some time while the tooth reattaches itself to its root material. Your dentist may decide that root canal treatment is necessary for optimal success. Also, in a small number of cases, it will not be possible to save the tooth. Just like with an avulsed tooth, getting to the dentist as quickly as possible after the injury is an essential component of successful results.
Broken or Fractured Teeth
How your dentist proceeds with treating these types of dental injuries will depend on several specifics, such as the severity of the breaks or fractures, the extent that surrounding tissues are damaged, and the amount of pain that the patient is experiencing. If you break a tooth, rinse your mouth gently with lukewarm water and apply a clean piece of gauze on the area if it is bleeding. Gentle pressure may stop the bleeding within 10 or 15 minutes. An ice pack on your cheek over the affected area may reduce pain and swelling, and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used as well. As with other types of dental trauma, getting dental care as quickly as possible is a pivotal factor in how quickly and thoroughly you will heal.
How your dentist deals with cracks, fractures, or outright breaks depends on the severity of the situation. A minor chip, for instance, may need no treatment at all, although you may want to schedule a cosmetic procedure to preserve your beautiful smile. Small cracks also may not need treatment. However, you may have to have a crown installed if the pointed chewing surface on your teeth is affected. If the break or fracture involves an exposed nerve, you might require a root canal followed by a crown. In some severe cases, such as breaks resulting primarily because tooth material has been weakened by decay, the tooth may have to be removed.
Keeping the contact information of your dental care facility inconvenient places helps ensure that any dental trauma experienced by you or your family is handled in a timely fashion. You can also hedge your bets by having a dental injury preparation kit on hand in both your home and in your child’s sports bag. Reviewing proper dental trauma procedures with your child at the beginning of every sports season is also recommended so that the child knows what to do in the event a tooth becomes knocked out or loosened. As always, minimize chances of dental injuries by having your child wear properly fitting mouth guards and headgear while engaging in sports.
There is no reason to let the fear of dental trauma cause you or your child to decline to engage in your favorite physical activities. Modern techniques and technologies can ensure that when injuries do happen, they’re managed quickly and effectively so that patients can get on with the business of living. Please feel free to contact us at your convenience if you have questions about how to proceed if you or a loved one experiences dental trauma as well as how to minimize the chances of it happening altogether.