What to Do When an Accident Happens


“It will never happen to me.”

That’s what some people think when the subject of emergency preparedness comes up. But when it comes to dental injuries, the numbers tell a different story. For example, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Dental Association, some 5 million teeth are avulsed (knocked out) each year; almost $500 million will be spent treating and replacing them. Yet knocked-out teeth are thought to make up only a small fraction (2-16 percent) of all oral injuries. The remaining problems range from chips and cracks to loose teeth, soft-tissue or temporomandibular joint injuries, or fractures of the teeth or facial bones.

Without a doubt, accidents do happen—and statistics show they seem to happen to some groups of people more than others. Males are about twice as likely to suffer traumatic dental injury as females; athletes have been identified as a group that is extremely susceptible to dental injury; and children have a higher-than-average injury rate.  In all groups, dental injuries occur most commonly to the front teeth, especially the ones on top.

It’s always best to prevent accidents—but if that isn’t possible, knowing what to do when an injury occurs can make a big difference in the outcome. As a first step, many emergency responders are taught to check for the ABC’s: Airway (a clear path for air to get through the mouth and windpipe to the lungs); Breathing (regular inhalation and exhalation); and Circulation (a steady pulse). If bleeding is observed, apply direct pressure to the wound to stop it. If it can’t be controlled within a few minutes—or if the victim has lost consciousness or is in severe pain—call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Fortunately, most dental injuries aren’t life-threatening, so you can quickly make sure the patient is safe and reasonably comfortable. Next, you should try to determine exactly what the dental problem is so you can follow the best course of action.

If a tooth has been knocked completely out of the mouth, you’ll need to act quickly. If possible, find the tooth and, holding it gently by the crown (not the roots), re-implant it in its socket in the proper orientation. Then, rush to the nearest dentist, oral surgeon, or urgent care center for professional treatment. If it isn’t possible to re-implant the tooth immediately, place it between the patient’s cheek and gum, or in a bag with saliva or a special preservative solution, and seek professional help. The sooner a knocked-out tooth is re-implanted, the better the chance of saving it.

If a tooth is broken, loosened or displaced (moved out of position), you have a little more time to act.  You can control minor bleeding with gauze pads or a clean cloth, and make the patient comfortable with a cool compress and/or a salt-water rinse. In this case, you should seek professional dental treatment within 6 hours, preferably at a dentist’s office or an urgent care facility with a dental specialist.

If the victim experiences pain or swelling in the jaw or face, it may indicate a broken bone, gum injury, or damage to the temporomandibular joint. An ice pack can be used to relieve the symptoms, but X-rays or other tests may be needed to determine the extent of the injury; if in doubt, have it examined as soon as possible.

If a tooth is chipped but exhibits no other symptoms, you can schedule an office visit to have it examined. If you saved pieces of the tooth that had broken off, bring them with you to the dentist. Chipped teeth can generally be repaired quite successfully via cosmetic bonding. However, if pain or other symptoms worsen, don’t wait for the appointment—get an examination as soon as possible. Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.


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