Once upon a time, my adorable 4-year-old son was being a big boy and helping his daddy change the tires on our truck. He was so proud of himself, being with his dad and doing hard work. So proud that he decided that he was certainly strong enough to pick up one of those big ol’ tires all by his little ol’ self. He knelt down, shimmied his hands under the tire, took a deep breath and lifted that side of the tire up with a giant grin on his face, “Look Daddy!” he shouted just before losing his grip and dropping the tire
…which hit the ground hard
…and bounced up into the air, smashing squarely into those adorable top baby teeth.
All of them. They were jammed up into the gums.
This certainly seemed like a dental emergency to me. Despite all of our efforts to protect his teeth – regular brushing, trying to get regular flossing in, wearing a mouth guard when he played ice hockey (yes, at 4-years-old, he was already an avid ice hockey player!), and going to the dentist twice a year.
But was it an emergency?
Dental emergencies are typically due to injury. This was definitely an injury. Emergencies typically involve a tooth being knocked out, cracked, or chipped. His teeth were all intact. *Really* intact – as in jammed up into the gums! The other categories of emergency are extreme pain or an object that is jammed between teeth. It was hard to tell if he was in pain or not because he was scared.
As parents, we felt that this incident qualified as an emergency. And then it hit us: We had no idea what to do in the case of a dental emergency! Through trial and error and talking with the dentist, we learned how to respond correctly. I hope that you never have to deal with an injury to your child’s teeth. But, if you do (and you probably will because kids will be kids), here is a plan for response to a dental injury:
- Stay calm!
- Stop the bleeding quickly. Mouths bleed A LOT and your job as the responsible adult it to get that bleeding stopped as quickly as possible. Use gauze or a clean cloth and apply gentle, but firm pressure to the wound. As the bleeding slows, you will be able to assess the injury better. Sometimes, a cut in the lip seems like it’s going to be a serious injury, but as the bleeding is staunched, you can see that it’s nothing that a little ice and a few snuggles won’t cure.
- Check the wound. If you find a cracked or chipped tooth, you’ll need to get to the dentist as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
- (if applicable) Find the tooth! If your child has knocked out a tooth, find it and then call the dentist. Dentists can actually put baby teeth back in (who would have thought that was possible?!?) and your dentist may want to do this. The other reason to find the tooth is that it will enable the dentist o assess whether or not the entire tooth was knocked out.
- Keep the tooth moist. Yes, you read that correctly. Once you find that precious tooth (especially if it’s an adult tooth), do your best to keep it moist. If you can, put the tooth back in your child’s mouth in its proper place. Have your child gently bite down on a piece of gauze or even a tea bag to help keep the tooth in place (and prevent swallowing). If you can’t put the tooth in his mouth, then put it in a container or milk.
- Call the dentist.
My poor little guy’s gums turned an ugly purple color and bled so much when he injured his teeth. To our amazement, the dentist didn’t tell us to rush to the emergency room or even to get into the office immediately. He did set up an appointment for the following day and gave us some tips, like giving only cold liquids and children’s Tylenol to help with the pain.
Much to our surprise, when we went to the dentist the next day, he took one look and proclaimed that we had nothing to worry about. All of the teeth were intact and he informed us that they would slowly move back down to their normal position and that one day, he would lose those baby teeth and they would be replaced by healthy permanent teeth.
I didn’t really believe him. My son’s gums were soooo swollen and discolored. Howe could it be possible that everything would be fine? But, in the end, his little body healed itself and today, he has a healthy set of permanent teeth. Well, almost, there’s still one baby tooth hanging on in there, but I’m sure it’ll come out in due time.
Best advice in the case of a dental injury? STAY CALM and contact your dentist.