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Dental Trauma

Dental trauma is any injury to your teeth, gums, jawbone or soft tissues of your mouth. Accidents, such as falls, car wrecks and sports-related injuries are the main cause of traumatic dental injuries. Early treatment gives you the best chance for full recovery.

Overview

What is dental trauma?

Dental trauma refers to any mouth injury. This includes injury to your teeth, gums, jaws, tongue, lips or surrounding structures.

Traumatic dental injuries range from mild to severe. Some are dental emergencies and require immediate treatment.

If you have a severe dental injury, call your dentist right away for further instructions. If your dentist isn’t available — or if you have severe pain, broken facial bones or bleeding that won’t stop — head to your nearest emergency room.

Dental trauma types

There are many types of dental injuries, including:

What to do if you have dental trauma

The first thing you should do is call a dentist. They can give you specific instructions for your situation. If you don’t have a dentist, or if it’s after your dentist’s business hours, you should visit an urgent care clinic.

Some dental injuries, like a slightly chipped tooth, can wait until you can schedule an appointment with a dentist. Other injuries, like a knocked-out tooth or broken jaw, need immediate treatment.

While you’re waiting to see a dentist, here are some things you can do in the meantime:

  • If you have a fractured tooth, try to locate any broken pieces and bring them to your appointment with you. If jagged edges irritate your tongue, cover the rough spots with orthodontic wax. You can buy wax at most pharmacies.
  • For a knocked-out tooth, rinse the tooth off in clean water and try to gently place it back in its socket. (Don’t touch the tooth root.) If you can’t place your tooth back in its socket, put it in a container and bring it to your appointment with you. Sometimes dentists can replant knocked-out teeth. But you only have a short window of time to do this — usually within 30 to 40 minutes.
  • If you have mouth pain, take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Use an ice pack to soothe any swelling.

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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of dental trauma?

Dental trauma symptoms depend on the type of injury you have. They may include:

  • Toothache.
  • Discolored tooth.
  • Mouth pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Bleeding from your mouth.
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.
  • Slightly loose tooth.
  • Difficulty moving your jaw or opening your mouth.

What causes dental trauma?

The most common causes of dental injuries include:

  • Falls.
  • Vehicle accidents.
  • Sports-related injuries.

Other causes include physical altercations, like fighting or domestic abuse.

Dental trauma risk factors

A dental trauma risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a mouth injury. These risk factors include:

  • Playing contact sports.
  • Having an overjet (when your upper teeth “stick out” over your lower teeth).
  • Having extensive tooth decay (cavities).
  • Having lip and tongue piercings.
  • Being younger than 20 years old. (Dental injuries are most common among children and adolescents.)

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What are the consequences of dental trauma?

A dental injury can make you more vulnerable to oral health issues. Many people also experience emotional and psychological effects.

Possible consequences of dental trauma include:

  • Cavities.
  • Abscessed tooth.
  • Tooth loss.
  • Pain.
  • Difficulty chewing.
  • Speech issues.
  • Changes in appearance.
  • Lower self-esteem.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are dental injuries diagnosed?

A dentist will examine your mouth. They’ll also ask how you got your injury and what kind of symptoms you have.

They may also take dental X-rays or a CT (computed tomography) scan. These imaging tests allow your dentist to see the extent of your injuries.

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Management and Treatment

How is dental trauma treated?

There are several procedures dentists use to treat traumatic dental injuries. The type of treatment that’s right for you depends on the type of injury you have.

Common dental trauma treatments include:

  • Dental fillings and dental bonding.
  • Root canal therapy.
  • Restabilization or replantation.
  • Tooth extraction.
  • Tooth replacement.

We’ll explore each of these in more detail below.

Dental fillings and dental bonding

Dentists use dental fillings or dental bonding to camouflage chips and cracks and rebuild mildly damaged teeth. Providers typically reserve this treatment for minor dental injuries.

Root canal therapy

If a crack or fracture reaches your tooth pulp, you’ll need root canal therapy. This treatment removes the nerves, blood vessels and connective tissues inside your tooth. You may also need a dental crown to protect your tooth.

Restabilization or replantation

For a dislodged or knocked-out tooth, a dentist may try to restabilize or replant your tooth in its socket. For restabilization, they’ll make a custom splint to place over your teeth. This will keep the affected tooth from moving until the surrounding ligaments reattach.

If your tooth came completely out of its socket, a dentist may try to replant it before giving you a custom splint to wear.

Tooth extraction

In some cases, damaged teeth are beyond repair. If you have severe tooth trauma, a dentist may recommend tooth extraction (removal).

After extracting your tooth, your dentist may place a dental bone graft in the socket to preserve your jawbone and prevent bone loss in the future.

Tooth replacement

If dental trauma results in tooth loss, ask your dentist about replacement options. It’s important to replace lost teeth. If you don’t, the gaps in your smile can have a negative impact on speaking and chewing function.

Common teeth replacement options include dental bridges and dental implants. Your dentist can help determine which option is right for you.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk for dental trauma?

You can’t always prevent dental trauma altogether, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  • Wear a protective mouth guard when playing contact sports.
  • Wear your seatbelt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
  • Don’t chew on ice.
  • Don’t use your teeth as tools (like tearing tags off clothing).
  • Don’t bite your fingernails.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have dental trauma?

Every injury — and every person — is unique. If you sustain a dental injury, you should contact a dentist right away. They can give you further instructions and schedule any necessary office visits.

In general, the sooner you get treatment, the better your outlook.

How long does it take for dental trauma to heal?

It depends on the type of injury you had. Minor traumas, like soft tissue injuries, may heal in less than one week. Tooth trauma typically heals in about four to six weeks unless damage reaches your tooth pulp. In these instances, it could take several months for a full recovery.

Living With

When should I call my dentist?

Call your dentist right away if you have a dental injury. They can give you instructions on what to do next.

Even if you’re not in pain, it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible. Left untreated, dental trauma can lead to other serious oral health issues, like cavities and infection.

When should I go to the ER?

You should go to your nearest emergency room if dental trauma results in:

  • Excessive bleeding that won’t stop.
  • Severe pain that doesn’t get better with medication.
  • Broken jaw or other broken facial bones.

What questions should I ask my dentist?

If you’ve experienced dental trauma, here are some questions you might want to ask your dentist:

  • How serious is my injury?
  • What treatment do I need?
  • How long will treatment take?
  • What’s the success rate?
  • Will you be able to save my tooth?

Additional Common Questions

What is the most common dental trauma?

The three most common dental injuries include:

  1. Tooth crown fractures.
  2. Knocked-out teeth.
  3. Dislodged teeth.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Dental trauma can be mild or severe and may affect your teeth, gums, tongue, lips, jaws or other areas of your mouth. Even if you don’t have pain, you should call a dentist any time you sustain a dental injury. Prompt treatment gives you the best chance of saving natural teeth and restoring oral health.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 12/04/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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