Considering all of the chewing we do on a daily basis -- including the occasional ice chip or peach pit -- it's remarkable that our teeth last as long as they do. And considering how easy it is to accidentally bite yourself, we should all be grateful if our lips, tongue and cheek aren't constantly sore.
The mouth can be an especially sturdy and resilient part of the body. But when injuries do happen, you need to take them seriously. Putting off treatment now could lead to even more expensive treatments down the road. And, in some cases, an injury to the mouth may be an emergency.
Almost everyone chips a tooth at some point in their lives. When a tooth gets chipped, a small piece of enamel has been knocked off. While it's not usually painful, it can make the tooth more sensitive to cold and heat. If not treated, the chip could lead to deeper damage in the tooth. Depending on the severity of the chip, a dentist may simply sand it smooth or fill it in with a synthetic resin.
In most cases, a small cut in the mouth -- perhaps caused by an accidental bite or a poke with a toothpick -- is nothing to worry about. Wash the cut with warm salt water and apply pressure with some gauze or clean cloth. If it won't stop bleeding, you need to get yourself to your dentist or hospital for immediate treatment. You may need stitches.
Cracked or broken teeth
A crack or a break in a tooth is more serious than a chip. If the break has reached the pulp, you'll need immediate treatment to ease your pain and prevent the loss of the tooth. Rinse your mouth with warm water and get to a dentist promptly.
Knocked out teeth
A knocked-out tooth is a dental emergency. If you can get the tooth to your dentist or emergency room within 30 minutes, you have an excellent chance of keeping it. Pick it up by the white crown, not the root. Rinse it gently and put it in milk, saline solution, or between your cheek and gums.
Some parents don't think it's a big deal when a child gets a baby tooth knocked out. After all, it was going to come out on its own eventually. But baby teeth have an important job: By keeping their place in the mouth, they show the adult teeth where to appear. If your child knocks out a baby tooth, you don't need heroics to save the tooth, but you should take him or her to a dentist soon. You child may need a spacer to make sure the adult teeth come in properly.
A tooth that has been shoved out of alignment needs prompt treatment. Try to reposition it with your finger using very light pressure, and try to see your dentist within 30 minutes.
Some dental injuries aren't as easy to diagnose as a chipped tooth or cut lip. But you should still see a dentist soon if you notice any of the following warning signs:
- Severe toothache or 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
American Dental Association. Dental Emergencies. 2010. http://www.ada.org/370.aspx
Sports Dentistry Online. Sports Dentistry Facts. http://www.sportsdentistry.com/facts.html
NetDoctor. Dental Injuries. 2005. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/dentalinjuries.htm
WebMD. Broken or Knocked Out Teeth. http://www.emedicinehealth.com/broken_or_knocked-out_teeth/article_em.htm
Seattle Children's Hospital, Research, and Foundation. Tooth Injury. January 2010. http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-conditions/symptom-index/tooth-injury/