Traumatic Dental Injuries

Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.

Your Child's First Teeth

Kids mouth anatomy.

Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.

Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Age one dental visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.

There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.

Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.

Pediatric Dental Treatments

There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:

Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.

Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).

Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.

Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.

Sports & Your Child's Teeth

If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!

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Traumatic dental injury.Traumatic dental injuries can occur in people of all ages and activity levels. The cause might be a car accident, a fall down the stairs, or an elbow to the face during a basketball game. As with most types of dental treatment, the primary goal when treating a traumatic dental injury is to save teeth at risk of being lost, and restore them to full function and normal appearance. In many cases, the difference between saving and losing a tooth depends on taking the proper action in the immediate aftermath of an injury. Here are some guidelines on how to prevent sports-related dental injuries and what to do after a dental injury occurs.

Sports-Related Dental Injuries

Americans of all ages love playing sports — so much so that participation in high school sports has been increasing for 24 consecutive years, according to one survey. Yet to gain the very real benefits that sports offer, it's necessary to accept — and prepare for — the risk of injury.

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Dental trauma accounts for a significant portion of all sports injuries, yet so many of these injuries are preventable. How? With a high-quality mouthguard. When you consider that the lifetime cost of replacing a permanent tooth has been estimated to exceed $20,000, a good mouthguard is one of the best investments you can make in sports equipment: It has been shown to reduce the risk of sports-related dental injury by 60 times.

The best kind of mouthguard is one that comes from your dentist's office. It's custom-made from a model of your own teeth, so it's strong, lightweight, and perfectly fitted. If you (or your child) are active in sports, ask about this indispensable piece of safety gear. And continue reading below to find out what to do in the case of specific types of dental injuries.

Chipped or Broken Teeth

Chipped tooth.Chipped teeth are the most common dental injury, according to the American Association of Endodontists. If teeth have been chipped or fractured, or if they are loose or tender to the touch, make sure to see a dentist within 12 hours. Try to locate any pieces of the tooth that have come off, as it may be possible to reattach them to the crown with tooth-colored bonding material.

Knocked-Out Teeth

Knocked out tooth.If a permanent tooth has been knocked out of its socket (avulsed), immediate attention is required. First, recover the tooth — and if it's dirty, gently clean it off with water. Try not to touch the root portion of the tooth. Next, if possible, place the tooth back into its socket (making sure it is in the proper orientation), and apply gentle, sustained pressure to the area for five minutes. You can use a wad of wet tissue or gauze to help grasp and hold the tooth in place. Get emergency dental treatment as soon as possible afterward, and be sure to check whether a tetanus shot or booster is needed.

If it isn't possible to replant the tooth, have the patient hold it between his teeth and cheek, or place it into a plastic bag with the patient's saliva, or into a cup of cold milk. Control bleeding from the tooth socket by applying pressure to the area (use gauze if possible), and get the patient and the tooth to an emergency treatment center as soon as possible. Primary (baby) teeth, however, don't usually need to be replanted.

Partially Displaced Teeth

If teeth are driven into or pushed partially out of the jaw, or if they are out of alignment, the patient should see a dentist or oral surgeon within six hours of the accident. A careful examination of the mouth (plus x-rays if needed) should reveal the extent of the damage, and indicate what restorative treatments are likely to be required.

Soft-Tissue Injuries

In addition to the teeth, dental injuries often involve damage to the gums, the tongue, and the inside of the mouth. When these soft-tissue injuries occur, it's best to take the following immediate actions, and then see a dentist as soon as possible: Wash and rinse the area with soap and water if possible, or remove debris and foreign material by hand. Bleeding can usually be controlled by applying direct, gentle pressure to gauze pads placed on the wound. If it can't be controlled after about 10 minutes, go to an emergency room.

Don't hesitate to call the dental office for more specific information about handling a traumatic dental injury.

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