How to Respond When a Child Has a Chipped Tooth

Responding quickly may prevent permanent damage from occurring

mother trying to comfort child with tooth pain
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When a child has a chipped tooth, parents, caregivers, teachers or coaches should be prepared to respond quickly. Children can chip their teeth anywhere at almost any time by playing sports, falling down, riding bikes or routine activities.

How parents respond to dental trauma may determine whether the tooth can be salvaged. Parents, coaches and childcare providers should heed these tips when children damage teeth.

Save the Chipped Tooth

If a child chips a tooth, attempt to save the chipped portion. It makes color matching easier. Additionally, if the chip exposes dentin or pulp, then chances are high that oral bacteria will infect it. Typically, the dentist waits for a short period of time to determine the extent of the damage. If the tooth hurts, changes color or is sensitive to cold or heat, chances are a root canal will be required. But in the meantime, the dentist will patch the chipped tooth.

If a tooth gets knocked out of position, try gently moving it back into its proper place. Doing so may help preserve the ligament tissue. A root canal may still be needed, but moving it back into position, when possible, can improve the chance that the tooth will reattach to the jawbone properly. If the tooth has been knocked out of place and is essentially dangling, dentists may have to splint it. The most important thing to do is to get to a dentist as soon as possible.

When a Tooth Gets Knocked Out Completely

If a child's tooth gets knocked out completely, locate the tooth, if possible, and put it back into the socket as soon as possible. If it's dirty, rinse it off very gently with milk or water. Be sure not to scrub the tooth. Any tissue on the tooth reduces the chance of it getting reattached.

If you can't place the tooth back in the socket, then put it in cold milk or a salt water mix. If that is not available, then saliva will work better than plain water. Never wrap the tooth in a towel or napkin. Doing so dries out any tissue that is still attached to the tooth. Get to the dentist as soon as possible!

Consider whether the tooth is a baby or adult tooth. For obvious reasons, having a baby tooth knocked out or damaged is much less traumatic than having the same occurrence with an adult tooth. However, be sure to follow up with a dentist after a baby tooth is damaged or knocked out. An examination can determine whether any stopgap measure is needed and whether there is any underlying damage to the permanent teeth or jaw line.