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Dental injury

7-minute read

What is a dental injury?

A dental injury is an injury to the mouth. This can cause:

  • lost or displaced teeth
  • broken teeth
  • damaged gums

If you have lost a tooth and managed to keep hold of it, there’s a good chance it can be saved. You should get to a hospital or dentist within 30 minutes. It may still be possible to save the tooth up to 3 hours after the injury.

What symptoms relate to a dental injury?

An injury to your mouth may cause bleeding or swelling. If bleeding is heavy, seek urgent medical care as there is a chance your airway could get blocked.

Sometimes, the damage to your teeth might not be entirely visible. If a tooth is cracked, chipped or loose after an accident, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. This will help to avoid long-term damage.

Other signs of dental injury are toothache and swelling of the gums.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes a dental injury?

The most common causes of dental injuries include:

  • falling over
  • being hit in the face
  • having an accident while playing sport
  • eating something hard

When should I see my doctor?

You should call an ambulance on triple zero (000) or go straight to the emergency department if:

  • the person is having trouble breathing
  • there is a lot of blood going down the throat
  • the mouth or tongue are very swollen

If breathing is OK and the mouth isn’t bleeding too heavily, use a sterile dressing or a clean towel to apply firm but gentle pressure to the bleeding. Then go to your doctor or emergency department.

If you or your child develops any of the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor:

  • any difficulty talking or swallowing
  • swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • a fever (a temperature over 38⁰C)

If you or your child have a painful tooth, make an appointment with a dentist as soon as possible.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Dental injury first aid

Lost or displaced teeth

If one of your child’s first teeth is lost (a 'baby tooth'), don’t try to put it back in. Rinse your child’s mouth with salt water and use a cold compress if the mouth is swollen. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about pain relief medicines for children. This does not apply for babies who are teething.

If an adult tooth is lost, don’t throw it away. Call a dentist urgently and ask for an emergency appointment (ideally within 30 minutes).

Handle the tooth very carefully — it is best to hold it by the crown. This is the white part of the of the tooth that you can see in your mouth. Don't touch the root. Don't scrub the tooth at all or rinse it with water. If the tooth has dirt on it, gently rinse it in milk. If milk is not available, use saliva or a sterile saline solution (available from pharmacies).

It is important to handle the tooth by the crown and to avoid touching the root.
It is important to handle the tooth by the crown and to avoid touching the root.

If you can, push the tooth back into the socket it came from. Do this gently until you hear a click or the tooth is level with the other teeth. Then bite down gently on a clean cloth while travelling to the dentist for further assessment.

If it's not possible to put your tooth back in, place it in saline solution or milk immediately. Then go to the dentist, taking your tooth with you. Do not place your tooth in water as this can damage the tooth’s delicate cells.

If milk or sterile saline solution are not available, put the tooth very carefully in your mouth between your cheek and gum and go to the dentist. Be very careful not to swallow your tooth.

You can also use plastic wrap to protect the tooth. Spit some saliva into the plastic before wrapping the tooth. Do not transport the tooth wrapped in a tissue or cloth.

Broken teeth:

If parts of your tooth have broken off, these should be placed in milk or a sterile saline solution and taken to your dentist.

Swelling and Pain:

If you have swelling, try using a cold compress against the side of your face to relieve pain and reduce the swelling. Wrap an ice pack in a cloth before placing it against your skin.

How is a dental injury diagnosed?

Your doctor or dentist will examine your teeth and may take an x-ray. They will ask you about your pain and talk about your dental history.

How is a dental injury treated?

Treatment will depend on the type of injury.

If the pulp of a tooth (the inside of the tooth) has been injured, you may need root canal therapy.

If the tooth is loose or displaced (has moved), your dentist will need to stabilise it until your mouth heals. They may do this by using a splint or bonding it to the next tooth.

A cracked or broken tooth may need to have a crown fitted. These are made of porcelain or metal. Crowns make the tooth stronger and more stable.

If the tooth can’t be saved, then your dentist will discuss options with you. Some very severe dental injuries need surgery.

Can a dental injury be prevented?

Some activities are more likely than others to lead to accidents that cause dental injury. It’s best to wear a fitted mouthguard (one that’s custom-made by your dentist) to protect your teeth when doing activities such as:

  • off-road bike riding
  • skateboarding
  • rock climbing
  • white-water rafting
  • trampolining
  • boxing
  • football — soccer, rugby, league or Australian Rules
  • basketball
  • squash
  • hockey

Mouthguards that show signs of wear or damage need to be replaced.

Ask your dentist for advice about oral protection for yourself or your child.

Complications of a dental injury

After a dental injury, there is a risk of infection. You can avoid this by keeping your and your child’s mouth clean, and following the advice of your dentist.

It’s important to fix a dental injury. If you don’t, you could develop long-term problems that impact your overall health. Dental injuries can make it harder for you to chew and swallow. This can affect your nutrition and general health.

Resources and support

Find out more about looking after your teeth on the Australian Dental Association’s website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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