1. What are the most common types of dental injuries?
Chipped teeth are by far the most common of all mouth injuries;
almost everyone chips a tooth at some time. Chipping a tooth usually
means you've knocked off a small piece of enamel, the hard surface
material that covers your teeth. With a minor chip, your dentist can
simply sand the surface smooth. The injury may cause you more
discomfort or sensitivity to cold or heat if the dentin (the more
fragile inner layer) has been exposed. If it hurts, take an
over-the-counter painkiller such as ibuprofen and make an
appointment to see your dentist. The chip may need to be filled in
with a synthetic material to protect you against further damage.
Accidentally biting or cutting your lip, cheek or tongue is
another common occurrence and in most cases, it's not one to worry
about. If it's a more serious laceration, you may need to get
stitches. (Medical providers like to keep oral stitches to a
minimum, though, since they can interfere with eating, and in rare
instances cause infection.) Wash the area with warm salt water, then
apply pressure with a cold compress to try to stop the bleeding. If
bleeding is severe or doesn't stop, go to the emergency room of your
A cracked or broken tooth (fracture) is a more serious injury. If
the fracture has reached the dentin or pulp, rinse your mouth with
warm water, and get to your dentist quickly. You'll want to get
treatment to prevent infection while the pulp is still healthy.
Remember, even fractures that aren't visible can worsen and require
more extensive -- and costly -- dental care down the line.
A knocked-out tooth (avulsion) needs to be considered a dental
emergency because your chances for reimplanting the tooth -- having
it take hold again in the tooth socket -- depend on how quickly you
get dental treatment. Try to see a dentist within 30 minutes of the
accident -- you're more likely to save the tooth. Front teeth make
up 80 percent of all knocked-out teeth. Among adults, most teeth are
dislodged playing football, baseball, or other sports. Among small
children, the precarious job of learning to walk is responsible for
the majority of knocked-out teeth. If your tooth is knocked out,
immerse it in milk or a saline solution (never carry it dry) and
take it with you to the dentist or emergency room. If those liquids
aren't available, you can tuck it between your teeth and your cheek
and gum (be sure not to swallow it). Don't scrub or wash it, because
you can injure the living tissue.
Displaced teeth -- that is, teeth shoved out of alignment -- are
also a serious dental condition. If your tooth is pushed inward or
outward but is still attached, gently reposition it with very light
finger pressure. Moisten a clean cloth and hold it in place. See
your dentist within 30 minutes of the injury.
Upper and lower jaw injuries can occur after a traumatic event,
such as a car accident or a bad fall. If you're unable to close your
mouth normally and bring your teeth together, your jaw may be
broken. Jaw injuries need immediate dental and medical attention,
and you may need to go to your local emergency room.
2. Why should I visit a dentist if it seems like a minor problem
I can handle myself?
Many minor cuts and soft-tissue injuries, for example, can often
be resolved at home by rinsing them with warm salt water. But the
mouth injuries listed below require professional dental attention.
Treatment will depend on the type of trauma you have, where it's
located, and how severe it is. In the case of more serious injuries,
such as knocked-out teeth, a successful outcome often depends on how
fast you make it to the dentist's chair.
Some dental injuries -- a torn gum, a broken tooth -- are
obvious. Others, such as deep abscesses or dead or decaying dental
pulp, may not be visible when you look into your mouth. Yearly
check-ups and semi-annual cleanings are a must for preventing these
types of dental injuries. Most dentists have special imaging
equipment that can magnify and illuminate problems that can't be
seen with the naked eye -- but that can cause troublesome and costly
Chipped and cracked teeth -- no matter how minor the injury
appears -- are not simply a cosmetic issue. They can lead to more
serious infections and damage to the teeth. Cracks not visible by
simple examination can continue to crack due to continued pressure,
or wear and tear; they also offer an open door for bacteria to pass
into the tooth. If you have a dental injury, you'll need to monitor
it over time and may need to repair it again as you age. Taking care
of it sooner will minimize your costs.
Interestingly, the same rule applies to a tiny crack in an
artificial crown -- though you may be tempted to wait to fix it, the
crack can allow bacteria to infiltrate and grow underneath the
crown, even in teeth where you've had a root canal: You can end up
with a serious -- and often hidden -- infection.
3. What symptoms tell me I may have a serious dental injury
that's not visible?
•Toothache and jaw pain
•Pain when chewing or with a change in temperature
•Facial swelling accompanied by dental pain
•Isolated bleeding from a particular area of the mouth
•A change in tooth color (sometimes)
4. Is there a good reason to see a dentist if one of my child's
"baby teeth" is knocked out?
Yes. Even when small children lose baby teeth, they need to be
seen by a dentist. Your dentist can determine whether damage to the
gums has occurred and if damage to the tissue has led to infection.
As the child grows up, your dentist can also monitor to see that the
new, permanent teeth are coming in properly aligned.
5. How can I help prevent mouth and dental injuries?
•Always wear a seat belt and avoid eating or drinking in a moving
car. Have your children follow your example.
•Make sure you and your kids wear helmets when skating or riding
bicycles, scooters, and skateboards. If they're playing contact
sports, make sure they use mouthguards and face masks as well as
helmets. Ask your child's coach or sports group leader about her
plan to handle dental emergencies.
•Place your dentist's telephone number where it's readily
available. Find out your dentist's 24-hour on-call arrangements,
especially if you have kids.
•If you or your child have dental caps, bridges, dentures or
implants, note it on your emergency ID card.