How to Treat Baby Tooth Problems and Injuries

When your baby's first teeth come through, one of the last things you expect is that he will damage or lose one, or that tooth decay may set in. However, it's not unusual for babies and toddlers to harm their teeth as they stumble around trying to find their feet, or for a cavity to appear in one of those pearly whites. Check out these tips for coping with common tooth issues and injuries.

What to Do if a Baby Tooth Is Knocked Out

About a third of all toddlers experience some kind of tooth-related trauma, usually between 18 and 40 months. So, what should you do if your child knocks a tooth out?

  • Try to stop the bleeding. Apply firm, constant pressure to the hole.

  • If bleeding doesn't stop, seek medical help. After 10 minutes, the bleeding should stop. If not, see the dentist or go to the emergency room.

  • Consider offering pain relief. Ask your doctor about whether to give your child something to relieve the pain.

  • Call the dentist. The dentist will be able to advise on the best course of action iff a tooth has been completely knocked out.

    • Baby teeth. The dentist may decide it's best not to re-implant a baby tooth, as this procedure may affect the growth of the permanent tooth that follows. You'll still need to take your child to the dentist to assess any damage.

    • Permanent teeth. A permanent (adult) tooth can be re-implanted within two hours of being injured. (Your child will start getting permanent teeth at about age 6 or 7.) In this case, it's important to take immediate action by getting to the dentist fast.

  • Keep the tooth moist or put it back in its socket. Handle the tooth by the top or crown portion, not the root — and drop it (without cleaning it) into milk. The American Dental Association suggests that parents should try to place a permanent tooth back in its socket without touching the root. If you can do that, have your child bite down on a gauze square while you make arrangements to see the dentist. If you cannot get the tooth back in safely, take the tooth in milk to the dentist immediately.

  • Keep calm. When your child damages or knocks out a tooth, it's hard not to panic. But try and keep calm so as not to distress him further. The mouth has a good blood supply, which is why things often look worse than they are. The good news is that the mouth is also quick to heal.

How to Handle a Partial Break, Chip, or Crack

Baby teeth are easier to damage than adult teeth, as the crown (the part of the tooth that shows) is a lot longer than the root, making these first teeth more unstable than adult teeth. So it's not uncommon for your baby or toddler to partially break, chip or crack a tooth. Regardless of the kind of damage, it's a good idea to make an appointment to see the dentist to get it checked out.

See the dentist right away if:

  • The tooth is partly out of the gum.

  • There's a break-line running up the tooth.

  • A glob of reddish flesh (the dental pulp) is sticking out.

  • Your child seems unduly distressed.

Schedule a next day visit to the dentist if:

  • A tooth is cracked. After the incident, rinse your child's mouth with warm water, and then apply cold compresses to your child's face to control possible swelling.

  • A tooth is chipped.

  • If a tooth has been pushed up into the gum (intruded), but isn't broken off or bleeding.

  • If the tooth has just shifted a bit, your child will probably push the tooth back into place with his tongue. However, if the baby tooth is wobbly, the dentist may decide to extract it so that it doesn't become a choking hazard.

After any dental trauma, baby teeth may change color over a period of several weeks. This means that the inside of the tooth has died and the tooth may have to be extracted.

Gum, Lip, or Tongue Abrasions

An accident that causes the gum, lip, or tongue to bleed can be quite a shock, but here's what you can do:

  • If the gums or lips are cut or bruised.

  1. Apply cold pressure with a small bag of ice or wet gauze until the bleeding stops.

  2. Offer lots of hugs and maybe a game of peekaboo to ease the pain and distract your child.

  3. Your baby probably won't need a dental checkup if he's not in any pain and there's no bleeding or severe gum damage.

  4. If the cut is larger than 1/4 inch or goes across the lip border, take your little one to see a doctor to make sure everything will heal properly.

  • If the tongue has been cut. Don't panic if you see a lot of blood − the tongue has an excellent blood supply, and even though it puts on quite a show, it usually heals itself. Visit your doctor or the emergency room if the bleeding doesn't stop.

Baby Tooth Decay

Some parents think that because baby teeth are later replaced by adult teeth, decay or cavities in baby teeth don't really matter. However, a rotten baby tooth can result in pain and infection, and severely decayed baby teeth may need to be removed. Decay can also impair the healthy growth of the future adult teeth. Here are some ways to prevent baby tooth decay:

  • Don't give your little one sweetened beverages, such as juice, soda, or sugar water.

  • Never dip your baby's pacifier in sugar or syrup, as this can lead to cavities in the front teeth.

  • If your baby drinks from a bottle, place only formula, breast milk, or milk in her bottles, and have your baby finish her bottle before bedtime or naptime to help prevent nursing bottle syndrome (also known as baby bottle rot).

  • Natural sugars found in milk or formula can also cause tooth decay, so don't forget to thoroughly brush your child's baby teeth twice a day.

The good news is, it's never too late to start good dental hygiene to help prevent baby tooth decay. If you notice a baby tooth is beginning to rot, visit a dentist to ask for personalized advice.

How to Take Care of the Oral Well-Being of Your Child

There are a few things you can do to protect your baby's pearly whites:

  • Clean your baby's gums and teeth: Even before the baby teeth appear, you can start working on dental hygiene. From the very start, you can wipe your baby's gums with a soft gauze or wet cloth. If you want to be very meticulous, you can do this after each feed. Then, when the baby teeth peek through, start using a soft-bristled brush to gently brush your little one's teeth, tongue, and gums morning and night. Read some frequently asked questions about taking care of your baby's oral health at home.

  • Teething Troubles: Your baby might feel some discomfort during the teething process as her teeth try to poke up through the gums. Read up on recognizing the signs of teething and soothing remedies.

  • Visit the dentist early and often: It's a good idea to make a dental appointment before your baby is really off and running. The first visit to the dentist should take place by her first birthday − around the time you take your baby on her general 1-year checkup. After this, schedule a dentist checkup twice a year.

  • Do some strategic babyproofing: Take some time to babyproof your home, including covering sharp corners with a corner guards, stowing away any rugs that your child may trip on, and installing baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs. You can also put play mats down on hard floors as an additional precaution.

  • Prevent tooth decay: Help prevent a rotten baby tooth by giving your little one water instead of sugary drinks, and by avoiding sugar foods in your baby's diet, particularly between meals.

  • Take care of any injured baby teeth: Head to the dentist for a checkup if there's any damage to one of those baby teeth, as trauma to them can harm the permanent teeth developing underneath the gums, possibly delaying their development. The dentist will also be able to rule out any damage that might not be apparent to the untrained eye, such as nerve damage.

Caring for your child's baby teeth is part of each day's regular routine, and these habits will help set your child up with a beautiful, healthy smile that will last a lifetime. But, we all know accidents happen; if she does injure one of those teeth, here's a visual recap of what to do: