It's common to break, chip or knock out a tooth after a blow to the face or even after eating something hard.
If the tooth is just chipped, you should make a non-emergency dental appointment to have it smoothed down and filled. If the tooth has been knocked out or is badly broken, see a dentist immediately.
In the meantime, while you wait to see a dentist, you can follow the advice below on how to care for your broken or knocked-out tooth. It covers what to do in the following situations:
A knocked-out tooth that you still have
The sooner a knocked-out tooth is re-implanted, the more likely it is to embed itself back into the gum. So if you don't want to be left with a gap, make an emergency appointment to see your dentist and follow this advice:
- Handle the tooth by the white bit at the top, and avoid touching the root.
- Do not scrape or brush the tooth.
- If the tooth is dirty, rinse it with milk or a saline (salt water) solution and try to put the tooth back into its socket in your mouth as soon as possible. Do not rinse the tooth with water or alcohol.
- When the tooth is back in its socket, bite down on to a clean piece of material (such as a handkerchief) or a wet tea bag to keep it in place.
- If you cannot re-implant the tooth, hold it between your cheek and gum until you manage to see a dentist, or store the tooth in a clean container and cover it with milk or your saliva
The above advice only applies to adult teeth – children's milk teeth should not be re-implanted (an adult tooth will soon grow in its place).
At the dentist
Usually, your dentist will want to re-implant your tooth as soon as possible. If you have already attempted this yourself, they will check that the tooth is in place correctly.
The tooth will then be splinted to the teeth next to it, to hold it in place while it heals. Clear plastic or a thin piece of wire will be used. You may need to keep the splint on for one or more weeks – your dentist will advise you.
A lost tooth
Most people choose to have a lost tooth replaced, especially if it is a front tooth. Your dentist will replace the tooth with either:
- a denture – a removable acrylic (plastic) tooth that is clipped on to other teeth with metal clasps
- a bridge – the false tooth is permanently fixed to the teeth either side of the gap using special cement
- an implant – a false tooth is permanently fixed to the jawbone, using titanium screws, by drilling down into the jawbone (this requires a minor operation in a dental hospital using local anaesthetic)
A denture, bridge or implant may improve the appearance of your smile and make eating easier. Also, if a missing tooth is not replaced, it may affect the way your upper and lower teeth bite together, and the neighbouring teeth may start to grow at an angle into the gap.
However, not everyone needs to have their tooth replaced, and some people don't mind having a gap. Speak to your dentist about your options.
A broken or chipped tooth
If you have broken your tooth, do not try to re-implant the fragment back into your gum – store it in a clean container and cover the fragment with milk or saliva until you can see a dentist.
You will need to have either a special type of filling or root canal treatment, depending on how much of the tooth has broken off.
If you have just chipped the edge of one of the front teeth, your dentist will probably smooth the uneven edge and replace the missing bit with a tooth-coloured filling.
If part of a back tooth (molar) is broken, so that a section of the chewing surface has broken away, this will probably be replaced with a crown (a cap that covers your tooth).
If you have broken a tooth halfway down and damaged the network of blood vessels and nerves in its centre (the pulp), root canal treatment will be needed to remove the damaged pulp from your tooth, as this can become infected. The space will then be filled and the tooth sealed with a filling or crown. Learn more about root canal treatment.