Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Contrary to what you might think, a knocked out tooth doesn’t inevitably mean tooth loss. Time is of the essence — the shorter the interval between injury and replanting the tooth, the better the tooth’s long-term survival. The longer the interval, on the other hand, the less likely the tooth can survive beyond a few years. That phenomenon is due to the mouth’s natural mechanism for holding teeth in place.
The tooth root maintains its attachment with the jaw bone through an intermediary tissue known as the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers from one side of the ligament securely attach to the tooth root, while similar fibers attach to the bone on the opposite side of the ligament. This maintains stability between the teeth and bone while still allowing incremental tooth movement in response to mouth changes like tooth wear.
While the ligament fibers will attempt to reattach to a replanted tooth’s root, the longer the tooth is out of the socket the less likely the fibers will fully reattach. An “ankylosis” may instead form, in which the root attaches directly to the jaw bone without the periodontal ligament. In this situation the body no longer “recognizes” the tooth and begins to treat it like a foreign substance. In all but the rarest cases, the tooth root will begin to resorb (dissolve); at some point (which varies from patient to patient) the attachment becomes too weak for the tooth to remain in place and is lost.
Ideally, a knocked out tooth should be replanted within 5 minutes of the injury (for step-by-step instructions, refer to The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries available on-line at www.deardoctor.com/dental-injuries). Even if you pass the 5-minute window, however, it’s still advisable to attempt replanting. With a subsequent root canal treatment (to remove dead tissue from the inner tooth pulp and seal it from infection), it’s possible the tooth can survive for at least a few years, plenty of time to plan for a dental implant or similar tooth replacement.
If you would like more information on treatment for a knocked out tooth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Knocked Out Tooth.”