According to conventional wisdom, any time a tooth hurts, it's an emergency. Some dental emergencies require immediate professional attention, while others can be dealt with more routinely, says Dr. Louis Amendola, D.D.S., Chief Dental Director at Western Dental Services, Inc.
A dislodged tooth represents the most time-sensitive dental emergency, says Dr. Amendola. "A tooth that has come out can be replaced," he says. Responding rapidly will increase the chances of success from tooth-saving procedures, and will reduce pain and risk of infection.
"A tooth can survive outside of its socket for a short time if it's addressed quickly and properly," says Dr. Amendola. "Whatever you do, don't let the tooth dry out. Immediately see your dentist you may be able to save the tooth!"
Re-implantation is most successful if it's performed within 30 minutes. "The chances of saving the tooth drop sharply after two hours," Dr. Amendola says.
And in the case of kids if a baby tooth is dislodged (or avulsed) accidentally, it should not be replaced, but a spacer may be required to maintain alignment as permanent teeth grow in. "It's important to see the dentist soon after a baby tooth is dislodged, so don't wait longer than a couple of weeks," says Dr. Amendola.
Of course, prevention is the best defense. "If you or your children are in any contact sports, or sports where people fall, like skateboarding, it is helpful to wear mouth guards," says Dr. Amendola.
You can increase the chances of saving a dislodged permanent tooth if you follow these steps:
Handle the tooth by the crown only; don't touch the roots and do not try to clean the tissue from the roots.
Rinse the tooth with water or sterile saline, but don't try to clean anything else off of the tooth.
If possible, reinsert the dislodged tooth into its socket, root first. If you cannot replace the tooth easily, wait until your dentist can reinsert it.
If the tooth cannot be reinserted, take it to the dentist in either fresh milk, saliva (tucked between your cheek and gum), sterile saline, or, as a last resort, water. Special solutions such as Hank's Balanced Salt Solution ("Save-a-Tooth") provide the best storage medium. The solution, available at drugstores, should be kept with your first aid supplies.
If the tooth has been loosened, but is still attached by the root, do not disturb it. However, if it has been moved, gently try to guide it into its proper position. See your dentist quickly.
If bleeding persists at the socket, press sterile gauze against the gum. Also, use a cold compress on the injured area outside of the mouth for ten minutes on and ten minutes off.
Take ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to relieve mild pain and inflammation.
If the tooth is still intact, but is chipped or broken, don't delay seeing your dentist. Embedded fragments can cause complications, says Dr. Amendola.
Seek immediate treatment if you have any of the following warning signs:
Extreme sensitivity to air or hot and cold food or fluids
Swelling or fever
Pain interrupts sleep
Pain doesn't respond to mild pain relievers
For more information or to find a nearby dentist, visit www.westerndental.com
Western Dental Services, Inc., is the largest staff-model dental HMO and clinical provider of dental services in California. With more than 4,400 employees and over 250 company-managed dental offices throughout California, Arizona and Nevada, Western Dental is the leader in family and specialty dental care operations at convenient neighborhood locations. The company's strict quality oversight, affordably priced treatments, group and individual dental benefit plans, as well as evening and weekend office hours, help keep the smiles of nearly three-quarters of a million patients healthy and bright every year.