By Kevin Bryan
Trauma, or physical injury, of a tooth is a common occurrence in adolescents. These injuries are often caused by accidents during sports or even normal household activities. Some of these injuries may result in a chipped or fractured tooth, but other accidents result in teeth being dislocated or knocked out. Every year, more than five million teeth are knocked out in children and adults.
It is important to respond appropriately and rapidly to save a tooth that has suffered trauma. If a tooth has been knocked out, it is important to locate it quickly. Once found, only pick up the tooth by the crown (the chewing part) and never by the root. If the tooth is dirty, rinse it gently with water. Never use soap or chemicals to wash the tooth. If it is possible, use your fingers to gently replace the tooth in its socket and hold it there with your fingers or by gently biting down. If you cannot replace the tooth, hold it in the mouth between the cheek and gum, keeping it moist with saliva. Alternately, place the tooth in milk or an approved tooth preservative, if available. Consulting with a dentist within 30 minutes of the accident is best.
Depending on the severity of the injury and the age of the patient, the dentist may choose different methods of treatment. If the tooth has been chipped, and not knocked out, the tooth can frequently be repaired by bonding the fragment back in place or by placing a filling of matching color. A more severe tooth fracture may require the placement of a crown (and artificial top of a tooth) to restore the broken tooth to normal function. If root damage is involved, a root canal may also be necessary. Occasionally, surrounding teeth may also be injured. In any case, it is always important to see a dentist as soon as possible to determine the extent of the trauma. The good news is that children under twelve may not need a root canal because their teeth are still in the developmental stage. Studies have shown that children with developing teeth still have stem cells that can support root growth and recovery.
While rapid response to a dental injury is important, prevention of dental trauma is just as important. While many sports require mouth guards for participants (karate, football, wrestling), others, inexplicably, do not require it. Most sporting goods stores offer a selection of inexpensive mouth guards, but a better choice may be a high quality, long lasting guard made specifically for an individual by their dentist. Remember, safety first comes with prevention!