Now more than ever, in the midst of quarantine, we need to avoid trips to the ER or dentist’s office. But, as every parent knows, accidents are a fact of life. For any dental emergency call your child’s dentist ASAP. “Your dentist may be able to help your child via teledentistry until you are able to go into the office,” says Elisa Velazquez, a dentist at Ocean Pediatric Dental Associates in Toms River and president of the New Jersey Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “Teledentistry allows the dentist to provide a consultation and [give] clinical guidance for your child’s emergency.”
Here’s how to handle common dental emergencies during these uncertain times:
“Whether it’s toddlers falling as they learn to walk or kids horsing around, accidents happen,” says pediatric dentist Mary Hayes, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “Because all dental emergencies involve a concussion risk, make sure your child is okay first.” If your child has injured her face or head or lost consciousness, it’s still advisable to head to the ER (though it’s a good idea to call as you’re on your way in case they have rules in place about where to enter the building, for example).
Otherwise, call your dentist immediately. Pick up the lost tooth by the crown. Keep the tooth wet to bring it to the dentist by placing it in a cup of milk. While milk is best, use water if milk isn’t available. Don’t reinsert it or clean it off. Let your dentist handle that so you don’t do further damage. And don’t delay. “The success rate is best when you can get the tooth placed within 30 minutes of the accident,” says Hayes. The good news: baby teeth don’t need to be re-implanted because they could disturb the underlying permanent tooth buds. However, your dentist still should do an exam to ensure no fragments remain.
Chipped or cracked tooth
If you notice a chip or crack in your child’s tooth, call your dentist. There’s nothing you can do at home, but you do need to have your child seen as soon as possible. “There’s a risk that the nerve has been exposed,” says Hayes. “And some kids are stoic and may not complain of pain.” The tooth may or may not be repaired. For instance, a toddler with a small chip may not need a restoration since the tooth will be replaced by a permanent one eventually. Each case should be evaluated individually, says Hayes.
Kids have toothaches for many different reasons including a cavity (you may see a brown spot on the tooth), swelling gums (an abscess) or from new teeth erupting. “One of the most painful incidences is when a baby tooth is retained and the new tooth is coming through,” says Velazquez. With any toothache, call your dentist. In the meantime, consider giving an age-appropriate dose of ibuprofen. If it’s a new tooth erupting, dab a topical anesthetic such as Orajel on the gum.
Burned lip or roof of the mouth
If your child bites into a slice of hot pizza or gulps soup, he could burn his lip or palate (the roof of the mouth). “There’s not much you can do except avoid crunchy foods and anything acidic, like citrus or tomatoes, for the next few days,” says Velazquez. “The upside is that the mouth is amazing in how quickly it heals.” Offer an ice pop to soothe discomfort or if he’s old enough, have him rinse with cool water. But if there’s blistering in or around the mouth, call your child’s dentist ASAP.
Biting the tongue or lip
Most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about, and the pain subsides quickly. But if the tongue is bleeding profusely, use gauze to apply pressure. If the bleeding does not stop after ten minutes of direct pressure, call your child’s dentist, says Hayes. The same goes if your child has bitten through his or her lip. The dentist may recommend and oral surgeon as an option to the ER.
Painful canker sores may erupt due to stress or a minor mouth injury, such as accidentally biting the inside of the cheek. Kids also sometimes get them right before or after a virus. Other lesions look similar but are viral in origin. “Call your dentist, especially if it’s the first time your child has experienced mouth sores,” says Velazquez. “It’s especially important to treat young children who are not eating or drinking due to the pain because it’s easy for them to get dehydrated.” To aid healing, stick with a soft diet, avoid acidic foods and use topical anesthetics such as Orajel. Your dentist may be able to to perform an in-office laser treatment or offer a prescription mouthwash for kids who are old enough to swish and spit.
Loose wire / brackets on braces / lost appliances
Orthodontic discomfort is typically not an emergency but it could be miserable. In the meantime, a poking wire can be pushed flat against the tooth with a cotton swab or pencil eraser. If that’s unsuccessful, pinch off some dental wax, roll it into a pea-sized ball, then flatten and place over the wire tip, says Velazquez. If an expander is loose, have your child eat soft foods—nothing crunchy or sticky, which may have caused the damage in the first place—until he or she can be seen by the dentist.
Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.