The time when toddlers are the most curious and uncoordinated—around 18-36 months—is also the period when they’re most likely to injure their baby teeth. Accidents can happen anywhere at any time, but most dental injuries in toddlers and preschoolers happen as a result of falling down. As kids get older, sports accidents are typically to blame for trauma to adult teeth.
A tooth can get chipped, broken, or even knocked out. When a tooth, along with its root, gets completely knocked out of the mouth, dentists refer to it as “avulsed.” Knowing how to handle an avulsed tooth can actually help to save it.
If a baby tooth gets knocked out, most dentists suggest that it should not be put back in. Trying to replant it could cause damage later on to the permanent, adult tooth developing underneath it. An adult tooth will eventually replace the missing one. Simply rinse your child’s mouth with cold water and place clean, wet gauze over the empty space to stop any bleeding and reduce swelling. If your child experiences pain or soreness, you can offer an age-appropriate pain reliever. You should call your pediatric dentist to schedule an exam so the injury can be assessed.
The most important things are to keep the tooth moist and avoid touching its root.
When a permanent tooth has been knocked out and it is still whole (not in pieces), there is a very good chance of saving it if you act quickly. The most important things are to keep the tooth moist, avoid touching its root, and contact your dentist immediately.
First, find the tooth. Make sure your child hasn’t swallowed it or aspirated it into the airway. Even if you’re not sure if the tooth was a baby or permanent one, call a dentist (or even the emergency room) right away. Hold the tooth by the top (crown) and not the root, or you can risk damaging it. Rinse the tooth with milk or saline and gently place it back in the empty socket. If this makes your child uncomfortable, or if you cannot replace it, keep the tooth in a cup of milk to keep it moist. Never put a tooth in a cup of water!
Try to get to your pediatric dentist immediately. The tooth has a much better chance of being implanted the faster you respond.
Dental injuries like this can be avoided if proper precautions are taken. Childproof your home with padding on sharp edges and gates at the tops and bottoms of staircases. Remind your child to wear a helmet when biking, skating, or scooting, as well as a mouth guard when playing sports. It’s also a good idea to keep your dentist’s emergency phone number in your cellphone.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, January 2019
- Most toddlers injure their teeth when they fall down, while older children experience dental injuries while playing sports or other physical activities.
- An avulsed tooth is one that has been completely knocked out of the mouth along with its root.
- Avulsed baby teeth typically are not replanted, but avulsed permanent teeth can be very successfully replaced.
- Try to prevent dental injuries, childproof your home or make sure your older child wears a helmet and mouth guard during sports and other similar activities.