How to Cope with Kids’ Dental Emergencies

How to Cope with Kids’ Dental Emergencies

You know how it goes. A perfect day. The kids are running around having a great time. You’ve just stretched out under a shade tree with all children in your sights. You crack open your summer thriller, and within two pages—the SCREAM! Your son flies to you. Blood runs from his mouth. Excited children stream toward you. All have a story and need calming. Your son is now gulping tears in his panic. And you see it. A bloody hole where his front tooth used to be.

You’re a parent. An emergency expert. But even pros who pack the 3-Bs in their purses (Band-aids®, Benadryl®, and Bactine®) can use the following pro tips to cope with kids’ dental emergencies.

When a Tooth is Knocked Out

The above scenario is a common one. In fact, nearly 50% of kids have some type of injury to a tooth during childhood.

Primary Teeth: If your child’s primary tooth (usually a front tooth) is knocked out, soothing the tears is the first and biggest job.

  1. Don’t try to put the tooth back in. Doing so could harm the permanent tooth underneath. If you can’t find the tooth, your child may have swallowed it or even inhaled it. Inhaling a tooth is rare, but if choking or wheezing accompanied the injury, make sure you get your child to an emergency room for an X-ray.
  2. Control the bleeding. Have your child gently bite down on a rolled-up piece of gauze or clean cloth.
  3. Reduce swelling. You may also wish to apply a cold compress to the area.
  4. Bring your child into the office for an exam. We’ll ensure the other teeth and underlying permanent teeth are okay.

Permanent Teeth: If your child loses a permanent tooth, you need to act quickly.

  1. Recover and gently clean the tooth. Be careful to hold the tooth by the crown and not the root. Gently rinse off any dirt or debris without scrubbing or scraping the tooth.
  2. If your child is old enough (and calm enough), carefully insert the tooth into its socket and have your child hold it there with gentle pressure. (Although this sounds like adding trauma to an already traumatic situation, putting a tooth back in within 5 minutes is your child’s best chance of saving that tooth. In fact, one report in the United Kingdom found that 85% of teeth reinserted within 5 minutes survived.) If the socket is too tender, placing the tooth in your child’s cheek pouch on the way to the dentist is fine, too. If your child is younger, place the tooth in a container of saliva or a bit of milk. Moisture is critically important for reimplantation.

Some things not to do:

  1. Don’t wrap the tooth in a napkin or paper.
  2. Don’t let the tooth dry out.
  3. Don’t clean the tooth with soap or any sterile agent.
  4. Roll up a piece of gauze and have your child gently bite down on it to help keep the tooth in place and control the bleeding.
  5. Reduce swelling. Apply a cold compress to the area.
  6. Call our office and get here ASAP!

Broken, Chipped, or Cracked Tooth

For any tooth fracture, it’s important to call our office. We can help you decide the seriousness of your child’s situation.

Primary Teeth: Broken primary teeth need to be assessed to determine if the tooth’s nerves and/or blood vessels are also damaged.

  1. Collect any tooth fragments you can. Don’t try to put the fragment back in your child’s mouth.
  2. Rinse your child’s mouth with lukewarm water.
  3. Control the bleeding. Have your child gently bite down on a rolled-up piece of gauze or clean cloth.
  4. Reduce swelling. You may also wish to apply a cold compress to the area. If the area isn’t too sensitive, you may give your child ice chips or a cold ice pop for swelling.
  5. Call our office!

Permanent Teeth: Follow the steps for the primary teeth. Retrieving the broken piece is even more important for permanent teeth.

  1. Retrieve the broken piece of the tooth. Make sure to briefly rinse the bit of tooth bit and place it in milk to transport it to the dentist.
  2. Rinse your child’s mouth with lukewarm water.
  3. Control the bleeding. Have your child gently bite down on a rolled-up piece of gauze or clean cloth.
  4. Reduce swelling. You may also wish to apply a cold compress to the area. If cold doesn’t irritate the area, you may give your child ice chips or a cold ice pop to quell swelling.
  5. Call our office!

Loose Permanent Tooth

A permanent tooth loosened by trauma needs prompt treatment.

Yay! Your child didn’t lose his tooth, but that loose permanent tooth may require stitches or splints.

  1. Rinse your child’s mouth with lukewarm water.
  2. Control the bleeding. Have your child gently bite down on a rolled-up piece of gauze or clean cloth.
  3. Reduce swelling. Apply a cold compress to the area. If the area isn’t too sensitive, ice cubes or a cold ice pop can also help reduce swelling.
  4. Call our office ASAP!

Cuts and Wounds of the Mouth and Lips

There will be blood.

The mouth is endowed with a rich blood supply. When trauma occurs to the lips, gums, and mouth, small wounds can really bleed and heighten anxieties about the severity of the wound.

  1. Calm your child. Remember, your verbal and non-verbal communication will either help your child relax or elevate the panic. It’s time to act like blood is no big deal, even when your inner mother or father is having a full-tilt freak out.
  2. Apply pressure with a clean cloth—any clean cloth. Do this for several minutes. Don’t rub.
  3. Wash your hands as soon as you can
  4. If the wound is on the outside of the mouth, clean it gently with soap and water once the bleeding has stopped.
  5. Apply antiseptic lotion or cream.
  6. Reduce swelling with a cold compress. Good time for an ice pop or ice chips to suck on.

Tongue Bites or Inside Lip Bites

If the wound is inside the mouth:

  1. Rinse your child’s mouth with water. Examine the extent of the injury. Injuries that may require stitches include a cut that extends through the lip or across the edge of the tongue. For these kinds of wounds, you should seek emergent care.
  2. Stop the bleeding. Apply pressure with a rolled-up piece of gauze or clean cloth.
  3. Reduce swelling. Wrap a piece of ice in gauze or a clean cloth and hold it next to the wound. If the wound is small, an ice pop is a bonus.

A Word about Head Injuries

Most dental emergencies aren’t tied to serious head injuries. However, if your child’s dental emergency is the result of a head injury, that head injury takes precedence over dental concerns.

The Mayo Clinic provides a good list of symptoms to watch for. If your child experiences any of these symptoms after a head injury, call 911 immediately and keep your child still until help arrives.

  • Bleeding or fluid leakage from the nose or ears
  • Severe headache
  • Change in level of consciousness for more than a few seconds
  • Black-and-blue discoloration below the eyes or behind the ears
  • Cessation of breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Weakness or an inability to use an arm or leg
  • Unequal pupil size
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Persistent crying
  • Refusal to eat
  • Bulging in the soft spot on the front of the head (infants)
  • Repeated vomiting

An Ounce of Prevention

Kids are going to be kids. We can’t protect them from all harm. Having said that, some dental accidents can be prevented.

  1. Insist on mouthguards for sports. A broad analysis of mouthguard effectiveness showed that players who did not wear mouthguards had a 1.6-1.9 times greater risk of dental injury.
  2. Teach your children not to walk or run with objects in their mouths.
  3. Teach your child not to suck or chew on hard or pointed objects.
  4. Model for your children that your teeth are not scissors.
  5. Keep your children’s teeth strong and healthy with regular brushing, flossing, and checkups. Also, don’t let a small pain go unattended. That could be a cavity that ends up weakening your child’s tooth.

We’re Here When You Need Us

At Davis Gribble Hollowwa Dental, our emergency dentists are on call.

Our administrative team is thoroughly trained to assist you by phone in an emergency. If you’re not sure your child’s situation warrants an immediate office visit, our staff will talk to you to determine if your child needs to be seen immediately. If your little one does need to be seen, we will contact one of our caring and experienced dentists to help treat the emergency and alleviate your pain as soon as possible.

And don’t worry if you’re not one of our existing patients. Nobody should be in pain.

Experiencing a dental emergency? Call us immediately at 505-898-1976.

Learn more about our emergency services
Author Info

Dr. Connor Hollowwa

Dr. Connor Hollowwa is an Albuquerque native. He graduated from the Albuquerque Academy and went on to receive a BA from Rice University. His Doctorate of Dental Surgery is from Creighton University School of Dentistry. Before joining private practice he practiced at the state-of-the-art Isleta Health Center’s Dental Clinic, providing modern dental care for the members of the Pueblo of Isleta. In his free time he enjoys playing the piano, fly-fishing, golfing, and skiing.