What to do if you’ve knocked out a tooth

Illustration of missing tooth
Knocking out a tooth can be a traumatic experience. Follow these steps to maximize the chance that we can save the tooth!

There are not many things more jarring than knocking out a tooth! A car crash, sports injury, falling accident, or even just biting down on something the wrong way can all result in an “avulsed” (knocked-out) tooth. Although the pain can be very extreme, a tooth is actually capable of healing right back into the socket! The ability to save the tooth all depends on the severity of the damage and how the tooth is handled immediately afterwards.

Here are some steps you should take right after a tooth is knocked out:

Pick up the tooth by the crown, not the root.

The root is the whole area of the tooth that is under the gum line and invisible to the eye when in its socket. This part of the tooth is very vulnerable and should not be handled at all, except by a dentist.

Rinse the tooth with milk if you have it available.

Milk is ideal because it contains proteins that have a naturally balanced pH level, and it is anti-bacterial. Additionally, milk will keep the root cells from swelling as much as they would if they’re placed in water. If you don’t have milk, the tooth can be rinsed in water. Don’t scrub it or use any cleaning product (even soap). Handle the tooth as minimally as possible, and do not let anything touch it.

Place the tooth in a cup of milk.

If you don’t have milk around, keep the tooth moist in your mouth. If your child has the knocked-out tooth (given that it’s permanent – baby teeth cannot be re-implanted), they may end up swallowing it, so either have them spit in a cup so that the tooth can sit in saliva or place it in milk. Do not keep the tooth in tap water, as this could damage the root.

Try putting the tooth back in its socket.

After the area in your mouth has been cleaned, try putting the tooth back into the socket and ensure it’s forward-facing. If the tooth cannot be kept in the socket until you get to the dentist, just keep the tooth moist as directed above.

A knocked-out tooth definitely qualifies as a dental emergency, so try to call us as quickly as possible (within an hour, ideally). If the tooth is in good shape, chances are very high that it can be re-implanted. If the tooth is not whole or the bone itself is broken, it is still possible to save the tooth if the damage is not too extensive, but it will be more difficult and the healing time will be longer. After cleaning out the socket, the tooth will be put back into the socket right away if a root canal is not necessary at that time. Once the tooth is back in place, it will be secured by a splint for a length of time. The tooth should be completely healed and reattached within a few weeks and up to 8 weeks, depending on the severity of the case. A follow-up appointment will be made just to make sure that there were no issues in the healing process.

Sometimes an accident is unavoidable, but there are certain precautions you can take to protect your teeth from being knocked out. Wearing a mouthguard while playing sports is always a necessity, as sports injuries commonly result in knocked-out teeth. Also be mindful of the way that you bite down when eating. Never bite down on ice or use your front teeth from chewing something that is hard. You might have a tooth that is already loose that you unaware of (in the cases of decay, gum infection, or a previous accident). If you do find yourself with a knocked-out tooth, call our office right away! You can rest assured that we are fully capable of handling any dental emergency that might come your way.

For more information about what to do when a tooth is knocked out, refer to the the following resources: