Your 7-year-old daughter is riding her bicycle and wearing her helmet. She's the picture of safety, right? Seconds later, she comes through the door crying. You see a gaping hole formerly occupied by one of her permanent teeth. What do you do?
Comfort your daughter, but move quickly. Time is a critical factor in saving the tooth, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Find the tooth. "If the tooth is still in your child's mouth, that's the best place for it to be," says Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. If the tooth fell out, track it down.
Treat it with care. When you find the tooth, make sure you hold it by the crown. That's the enamel-covered part of the tooth above the gum line.
Rinse it, don't scrub it. Use cool water. "You don't want to scrub away or remove the essential attached tissue fragments," says Dr. Harms.
Place it firmly into the socket if you can. The best place for the tooth is the socket. The tooth doesn't have to be sterile, just clean and free of obvious dirt, for healing and reattachment to begin without infection.
If your child's mouth is injured and you can't put the tooth back, or you just don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, you have some time. Staying calm and acting decisively is the most important thing you can do for your child and yourself. Simply place the tooth in a cup of milk or saline (one teaspoon of table salt in a cup of cool water). Or, you can use cool water.
Whether you place the tooth back in the socket yourself or are preserving the tooth, immediately call your dentist or the nearest hospital emergency room that has a dental service. If you don't know whom to reach, call your local dental society for an emergency number and/or a place to take your child.
"It takes a little time and thought," Dr. Harms says, "but knowing what to do before an accident occurs can mean the difference between saving or losing a tooth."
On a positive note, a child's tooth is more likely than an adult's to replant solidly.
Wearing a mouth guard is the best way to prevent tooth loss, Dr. Harms says. Many injuries occur during sports, and not just football or hockey. Tooth loss occurs in basketball, softball, and baseball, and even while riding a bicycle.
© 2013 Main Line Health