Not all cases of a broken tooth are classed as a dental emergency. If you break a tooth but are not in any pain or discomfort, you can schedule a regular dental appointment at your earliest convenience for an assessment and treatment, particularly if it has a slight chip or crack. But, what to do with a broken tooth, is an altogether different matter, and you should arrange to see an emergency dentist for urgent care as soon as you can.
What is a Dental Emergency?
A broken tooth may be the result of an accident or injury. But it can also be caused by something less dramatic, such as biting on something hard. The first thing to do is to assess the damage.
It is likely to be an emergency if you are experiencing a lot of pain or bleeding, have broken a large part of your tooth, or lost it altogether. In these circumstances, visit an emergency dentist for further assessment.
First Aid for a knocked-Out (Avulsed) Tooth
Knowing what to do with a broken tooth can be extremely helpful in saving the tooth if it has been knocked out entirely. If the tooth has fallen on the floor, pick it up by the part of the tooth that you see above the gumline—not the root.
If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk, or use your own saliva to clean it before popping it back into the tooth socket, if you can. Place some clean cloth or gauze over the tooth and gently bite down to keep the tooth in position.
If you cannot place the tooth in its socket, keep the tooth inside your cheek and seek out emergency dental care as soon as you can.
- It is possible to save a knocked-out tooth, but time is of the essence, and you need to seek out emergency dental care immediately.
- Do not let the tooth dry out. If it can’t be placed back in its socket or held in your mouth on the way to the dentist, the tooth must be placed in milk or a saline solution – not water. You can also wrap the tooth in plastic with some saliva.
Fractured or Broken Tooth
A broken tooth may mean suffering a small chip that is easily repaired with a filling. Alternatively, there may be more severe damage to the tooth if a larger piece (or pieces) have broken off. If you are experiencing pain and significant bleeding, rinse the area with warm saltwater and arrange to see the dentist as an emergency.
Many small chips and fractures may not be noticeable immediately, while others can be jagged and irritate the cheeks or tongue. Temporary, dental wax or even chewing gum can be placed over a jagged tooth for comfort until you see a dentist.
If you experience no pain from a chipped or cracked tooth, you should still have it checked out by your dentist, as the damage can leave your tooth susceptible to further damage, decay, and infection.
How Does the Dentist Fix a Broken Tooth?
A dentist may have several options about what to do with a broken tooth, depending on the nature of the damage.
For a knocked-out tooth, an emergency dentist can clean up the tooth and make sure it is placed back in its socket, provided the bone isn’t damaged. The caveat is that there is a limited time frame for when this can occur – usually within 60 minutes, so speed is of the essence. If it is able to be replaced, the tooth is held in position with splints attached to the teeth on either side. It typically takes around 3-4 weeks for the tooth root to reattach —although it can take up to 8 weeks in some cases.
Once the tooth is stabilised, a root canal is generally needed as the nerves and blood vessels that support the tooth are usually damaged too. These can’t be repaired and are removed to prevent infection.
2. Root Canal
A root canal removes the soft dental pulp from the centre of a tooth—this contains nerves and blood vessels—keeping the outside shell of the tooth.
The empty tooth chamber is filled to provide strength so the tooth can function normally.
This is an option for a knocked-out tooth that has been put back into place, or for teeth with cracks or fractures that have extended into the pulp chamber.
3. Dental Crown
A crown can provide added strength if a tooth is weakened after a root canal. It is made to measure and placed over the tooth. A crown is hard-wearing and made from materials including ceramic and metal and may be the only option for teeth that cannot be fixed with bonding or fillings.
Dental bonding is a composite resin used for filling chips and fractures.
A filling can repair a broken tooth if it is a small chip, using porcelain, composite, or amalgam.
Now you know what to do with a broken tooth and when you should seek emergency dental care. Here at Paramatta Green Dental, we’re always happy to help, so don’t hesitate to get in touch on (02) 9538 7875 if you have any concerns.
Healthdirect.gov.au – What Is a Dental Injury
Dental Health.org – Knocked Out Teeth
WebMD: Dental Health and Root Canals