Although there are no official figures on how many people damage their teeth in accidents or assaults in the UK, it’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of people each year have their teeth chipped, broken or pushed out of place.
A recent audit revealed there is huge confusion nationwide over what to do when someone loses a tooth. This lack of clarity – as well as little specialist training for dentists – is leaving patients in pain and with disfiguring injuries, says Serpil Djemal, a consultant in restorative dentistry, who established the UK’s only adult- dedicated dental trauma unit, at King’s College Hospital, London.
According to the new evidence, which was collected by Miss Djemal, half of patients who experience some sort of dental trauma remain in severe pain and suffer disabling stress and embarrassment for weeks afterwards.
Yet there are very simple measures we could all take that could dramatically reduce the impact of someone losing a tooth.
The first of these, says Miss Djemal, is never to discard a tooth that’s been knocked out.
Pick it up – avoiding the root – get rid of any obvious dirt by licking it or running it under water, then put it back in the mouth as close as possible to where it belongs,’ she advises.
‘Minutes count here. When a tooth is knocked out, the nerves and blood vessels are severed; the blood supply to the live tooth is cut. But delicate cells on the surface of the root of the tooth are capable of re-attaching themselves to the jawbone – as long as they’re not damaged.’
If putting the tooth back within minutes of the accident is out of the question, putting it in milk will maintain the correct fluid balance in the root, and will help the cells to survive for longer – possibly up to six hours. ‘A knocked-out permanent tooth is one of the few real emergency situations in dentistry,’ says Dr Peter Day, consultant in paediatric dentistry at Leeds University. ‘The public needs to be made aware of how to proceed immediately following these unexpected injuries.’
Putting a tooth back in the gum could save the tooth, and if bystanders, paramedics and doctors at A&E all know how important this is, it could mean that far more teeth are saved.
The expense of dental work isn’t the only consideration.
Once a real tooth takes root again, it has a better chance of surviving for longer than an implant.
Patients should also keep a decent photograph of their smile.
A selfie will show how knocked out teeth can be reimplanted in the correct position. An X-ray can provide this information – but only if the tooth is still straight and the damage is relatively minor.
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