Dental emergencies in children – what to do

Interim Clinical Director of Bupa Dental Care at Bupa UK
24 January 2017

If your child has a toothache or an injured tooth, it’s important to get them to a dentist right away. Meanwhile, you can also take steps to try and save the tooth, relieve pain and help your child feel safe.

An image of a small boy playing with a toy

Tooth problems have a way of appearing out of the blue, especially in children. They might not tell you about a niggling pain that has been developing for a while, until it suddenly turns into a full-blown toothache. Furthermore, childhood is the most common time for accidents that damage the teeth.

Whenever your child has a toothache or dental injury, it’s vital to get them to a dentist as soon as you can. The longer any dental problem is left, the worse it’s likely to become.

Know where to go

Know the phone number, address and opening hours for your child’s usual dentist. Your dental surgery will have arrangements for out of hours care too. Ask your dentist how to get emergency dental care when the surgery is closed at night, weekends and during holidays. Keep all of these details in a convenient place so you can find them quickly if you need to.

Reassuring your child

In an emergency, if you stay calm and confident it will help your child feel safe. Reassure them you know what to do, and tell your child that any pain will get better soon.

Toothache in children

If your child has a toothache, give them some paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the pain. Versions are available for children, and it’s important to follow the correct dose as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions.

You can look in your child’s mouth with a torch and see if there is a hole in their tooth, but don’t apply anything to it. If they can rinse their mouth with warm water, this will help to clean it.

Be alert about injuries

If an accident has happened with enough force to damage a tooth, be aware that your child could have other injuries as well. Check them over to see if they’re hurt anywhere else. Be especially alert for the possibility of a head injury. If you think they’ve been hurt, call your GP or take your child to A&E to get checked out.

Chipped or broken tooth

If you can find the bit of tooth that’s broken off, save it in a glass of milk. Take this with you when you go to the dentist.

You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen if they are in pain. Use a version for children and follow the correct dosage instructions on the packet.

A cold compress on your child’s face helps to keep the swelling down, but don’t use ice as this can cause a burn.

Knocked out tooth

This is an emergency and your child needs to see a dentist as soon as possible.

If your child’s tooth has been knocked right out, see if you can find it. When you pick it up, don’t touch the root, which is delicate. Rinse the tooth gently in milk or water but don’t scrub it. It’s important to keep the tooth moist, but water is not ideal for storing it. Keep the tooth in a glass of cold milk until you can get to the dentist. This will help to preserve the tooth in case it’s possible to put it back in. If there’s no milk, try to keep the tooth wet in some of your child’s spit (saliva).

For an older child who is cooperative, putting the tooth back in the socket gives the best chance of saving the tooth. Have your child bite on a clean handkerchief or similar cloth to keep the tooth in place. Or have them put the tooth in their cheek, next to their lower teeth. Only put the tooth in your child’s mouth if you feel confident they won’t swallow or choke on it. Don’t try to replace a baby tooth – only attempt this if it’s a permanent (adult) tooth.

If you can’t find the tooth, your child might have swallowed or inhaled it, which is another reason to get them checked out right away.

Your child can have children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen if there is pain. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packet.

If bleeding does happen, don’t panic. Have your child bite down on a clean handkerchief or cloth. A cold compress on your child’s face will help to reduce bruising, but don’t use ice.

Preventing dental emergencies

If your child plays a sport where they might get hit in the face, like rugby or hockey, get them a mouth guard. Your dentist can make one that is especially fitted to your child’s teeth. Insist that your child wears it.

Make sure your child has regular check-ups at the dentist. This way, any problems such as tooth decay can be picked up and treated early, before they become more serious. The dentist can also advise you on eating, drinking and tooth brushing, to keep your child’s teeth healthy and avoid painful cavities altogether.

Dr Steve Preddy
Interim Clinical Director of Bupa Dental Care at Bupa UK

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