Dental emergencies in children – what to do

Dentist and Head of Clinical Services at Bupa UK
09 July 2019

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.

A smiling child

In this article, I explain what to do in certain dental emergencies, with tips on how to prevent them happening in the first place.

Knocked out tooth

If your child has knocked out a tooth, this is an emergency and they need to see a dentist as soon as possible.

Ring your child’s dentist immediately and attempt to find the tooth. Reinserting it sooner rather than later gives it the best chance of healing. If you find the tooth, follow these steps.

  • Pick the tooth up by the crown (biting surface), not the root.
  • Gently rinse it under the tap – do not scrub or sterilise it.
  • Put it back into the socket using your hands.
  • Get your child to bite down on a clean cloth or handkerchief – this will help to keep the tooth in place.

Only put the tooth back in your child’s mouth if you feel confident they won’t swallow or choke on it. You should also only attempt this for a permanent (adult) tooth – don’t try to reinsert a baby tooth.

If it’s not possible to replace the tooth, store it in a glass of milk, or a container of your child’s spit (saliva) until you get to the dentist. This will help to preserve the tooth.

Apply a cold compress to your child’s face to help with any pain or swelling. You can also give them over-the-counter pain relief medicines, like paracetamol or ibuprofen for children. Always read the information leaflet that comes with the medicine, and follow the instructions carefully.

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

Chipped or broken tooth

A chipped or broken tooth can usually be reattached or restored. If you find the bit of tooth that’s broken off, keep it in a container filled with tap water. Make an appointment with your dentist right away and take the fragment with you.

Again, depending on how your child chipped or broke their tooth they may need pain relief medicines or to apply a cold compress to their cheek.

Your child’s dentist will assess the damaged tooth, surrounding nerves and blood vessels, and recommend the most appropriate treatment. If the tooth is sensitive, for example to hot or cold food and drink, arrange to see a dentist urgently.

Loose or wobbly tooth

Baby teeth become loose and wobbly and eventually fall out to make way for the permanent teeth. But if you’re child’s tooth is loose because of an injury, you’ll need to take them to the dentist.

Baby teeth usually heal on their own. But the dentist may remove the tooth if it’s affecting your child’s bite (the way their teeth fit together), or if there’s a risk of the tooth falling out. This is dangerous as it could cause your child to choke.

Permanent (adult) teeth that are loose need to be treated urgently. Your child’s dentist will put the tooth back in the correct position and monitor it over time. They may need to support the tooth to stay in place using stitches or a splint.

If your child is in pain, apply a cold compress to their cheek and give them suitable over-the-counter pain relief medicines.

Toothache in children

If your child has a toothache, make an appointment with their dentist. While waiting for their appointment, give them medicines such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the pain. Read the instructions that come with your child’s medicine and make sure it’s suitable for them to take.

If they can rinse their mouth with warm water, this will help to clean it.

Toothache can be very uncomfortable. If your child’s pain isn’t getting any better, contact your dentist for an urgent appointment. If your dental practice is closed, the answering machine may provide information on how to access out-of-hours services.

Go to your local accident and emergency department (A&E) immediately if your child has any swelling around their eyes or neck, which may be causing difficulty breathing.

Top tips for coping in a dental emergency

1. Know where to go

Save the phone number, address and opening hours for your child’s usual dentist in your phone, so you can access the information quickly. 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. This information may be available on their answering machine, but it’s good to ask just in case.

2. Reassure your child

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

3. 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 for advice or take your child to A&E to get checked out.

Preventing dental emergencies

The best way to manage dental emergencies is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

If your child plays a sport where they might get hit in the face, like rugby or hockey, get them a mouth guard. There are lots of different types. You can buy a mouthguard from your local sports shop, or your dentist can make one that is especially fitted to your child’s teeth. Always insist that your child wears their mouthguard when playing these types of sports.

Toothache can be caused by problems with your child’s teeth or gums. Make sure your child has regular check-ups at the dentist. This way, any problems such as tooth decay or gum disease 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 toothache caused by poor oral health.

Caring for your teeth is an important part of looking after your overall health. Discover more about our range of dentistry services.

Dr Steve Preddy
Dentist and Head of Clinical Services at Bupa UK

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    • Patient education: Mouth and dental injuries in children (Beyond the basics). UpToDate., last updated March 2019
    • Personal communication. Dr Steve Preddy, Dentist and Head of Clinical Services, Bupa UK, June 2019
    • Paracetamol. British National Formulary for Children., accessed June 2019
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    • Quick guide: best use of unscheduled dental care services. NHS England., published November 2015
    • Paediatric dentistry. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Dentistry (6 ed. online). Oxford Medicine Online., published July 2014