Did you know that summer is a peak season for dental injuries? Warmer weather means participating in more physical activities, more time outside of the house, and more opportunities to play sports with a high risk of dental accidents. As we enter into the new season, it is important to be aware of potential issues that can occur while you are out and about enjoying the summer sunshine, playing your favorite sport, or participating in any number of warm-weather activities. Here are three dental injuries to watch for this summer with tips on what to do if they occur.
Tooth Avulsion or Dislocation (Lost or Loosened Teeth)
The loss of a tooth, or the loosening of a tooth in its socket (known as “tooth extrusion”) is a very serious dental emergency. This type of injury occurs most often during a fall or a blow to the head. Sports like basketball or baseball are known for causing dental injuries, but you can just as easily fall while hiking or take a pop fly to the face as a spectator. Of all the dental emergencies that one can experience, the loss of a tooth requires the most urgency for treatment.
What to Do If You Lose or Loosen an Adult Tooth
If your tooth is just loose in the socket but the root is still attached, call your dentist immediately. Your dentist may be able to salvage your tooth and help you maintain your smile. If the tooth has completely fallen out, you still need to call your dentist for an emergency dental appointment. However, the triage for trying to salvage your tooth when it has completely left the socket and severed the root is different.
- Pick up the tooth by what is known as the crown (the portion used to bite and chew). Avoid touching the root.
- If the tooth is dirty, rinse with cool water, being careful not to jostle any remaining root. Do not wash the tooth. Do not use soap. If there is debris around the root that cannot be rinsed off, leave that for the dentist to remove.
- If at all possible, place the tooth back into its socket in your mouth in its proper position. Gently hold the tooth in place on your way to the emergency dentist.
- If you cannot place the tooth into the socket, keep it moist by placing it in a glass of milk or holding it in your mouth close to your cheek. If you are at a sporting event, some coaches keep tooth saver kits in their emergency supplies. Do not place the tooth in water. The American Association of Endodontists notes that tap water can be caustic to the root.
- Get to your dentist within half an hour or sooner. While the tooth may be salvageable after 30 minutes, the sooner you get help, the better chance you will have of saving the tooth.
While you cannot predict a fall or other accident, you can protect your smile while participating in high-impact or high-contact activities. Wear a mouthguard and take precautions to avoid dental injuries. If you play a sport like football, skateboarding, or cycling, wear your helmet and a mouthguard to minimize potential problems.
Cracked, Chipped, or Broken Teeth
A serious blow to the mouth may not cause your tooth to loosen or leave the socket, but it can crack the tooth. A cracked tooth can be minor, in the case of superficial “craze lines” that mar the surface but do not progress into the tooth or to the gum line. Those cracks are not necessarily harmful. A quick visit to the dentist can determine what your next steps need to be. A more serious crack, or chipped or broken teeth, however, should be taken seriously.
Severe cracking begins at the top of the tooth and grows downward. It must be addressed as soon as possible. Not only can it cause severe pain, but it also leaves the tooth vulnerable to decay. Chips or full breaks in the tooth are equally vulnerable to potential damage. Continuing to eat and drink with a damaged tooth can make it unsalvageable.
If you have cracked, chipped, or broken your tooth, schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible. When you call to schedule, make sure they know that it is to examine a potentially serious injury so they can work to get you in sooner and prevent future damage. Also, if you have suffered an accident or injury to the mouth but are not experiencing pain, it is still worth mentioning to your dentist during your regular check-up. Some serious cracks or chips may not cause pain. However, they still need to be repaired to protect the integrity of the tooth and prevent harmful decay.
A tooth does not have to be knocked out, cracked, or chipped to get damaged in an accident. A dental accident can also cause injury to the roots of your teeth without you knowing. The National Library of Medicine describes two types of root damage, referred to by dental professionals as root fractures: “Root fractures in permanent teeth are either in the form of transverse intra-alveolar root fractures, generally seen in the anterior teeth, secondary to any trauma; or, vertical root fractures (VRF) which occur both in anterior as well as posterior teeth, secondary to traumatic occlusion or iatrogenic procedures.”
Vertical root fractures begin in the portion of the tooth that extends below the gum line. They can cause severe infection in the gums. They can also lead to the death of the tooth, resulting in removal. The problem with this type of dental injury is that many people may not know they even have an issue until an infection has already set in. A person with a root fracture may experience pain or soreness or they may experience no symptoms at all. Fortunately, regular dental check-ups should help you in the detection and treatment of hidden fractures.
If you believe you have a fractured root, visit your dentist immediately to prevent the possibility of infection. A damaged root may require your dentist to remove the entire tooth. However, do not let this deter you from seeking treatment. An infection could cause you to lose far more than a single tooth if left untreated.
We hope these tips will help you in the unfortunate event of a dental emergency. In the meantime, strengthen and protect your smile with regular brushing and flossing, annual check-ups, and proper protective gear. Have a safe and lovely summer!