As your baby begins to teethe, the health of those new teeth rests on your shoulders. Teaching your child good oral health habits by showing them how to brush, when to brush, and talking about foods and drinks that could damage their teeth is crucial to giving your child a lifetime of healthy teeth.
Of course, when your child is an infant, their oral hygiene is 100% up to you until they are able to learn how to properly brush and care for their own teeth. But as your child grows and matures, you can set a good example by allowing your child to watch how you care for your own teeth.
Unfortunately, even with the best daily oral care, your child’s teeth may become damaged in an accident. Baby teeth can be knocked out, broken, or even half of a baby tooth can fall out. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation when your child’s baby tooth is loose, but still attached, will help you to possibly save their tooth and ensure their permanent teeth do not get damaged in the process.
How Does a Baby Tooth Become Loose?
Primary teeth, also referred to as baby teeth, can become loose naturally as your child's mouth become ready for their permanent teeth, But sometimes, baby teeth are loosened even when they aren’t ready to fall out naturally. Blunt trauma to the mouth or even gum disease can make a seemingly healthy tooth become loose. Some kids are all about rough and tumble play. They may slam their teeth into something hard while trying to jump or climb from one place to another. Other children can accidentally trip, hitting their mouths on a table corner or against the door frame, causing their teeth to become loose. 
Can a Dead Baby Tooth be Saved?
If your child has a dead baby tooth, you may be worried about what problems this could mean for your child’s permanent tooth that will come in as your child gets older. If the tooth died because of a cavity due to poor oral hygiene, a dentist will likely pull it, put a crown over it, or perform a root canal procedure to avoid causing other teeth near the cavity to also suffer from decay. If a baby tooth is dead, it can not necessarily be saved, but it can stay in the mouth to avoid any movement of other teeth or speech issues as long as the damage or decay is properly treated and evaluated by a dentist.
What is a dead tooth?
When a tooth is bumped loose but not completely knocked out of your child’s mouth, the tooth can possibly die. Referring to a tooth as alive or dead may seem strange but because the inside layer of the tooth, called the pulp, has blood vessels and nerves, it is considered alive. If these blood vessels become damaged, the blood will stop circulating to the tooth, and it will no longer be a viable tooth.
In less severe cases, a tooth can become a little loose but can then reattach itself completely without dying. If your child’s mouth is healthy and they get bumped or hit in the mouth causing their tooth to become wiggly, the tooth can reattach over a short period of time. The gums will tighten back around the crown of the tooth and the root will become stable again.
Why is my child’s tooth changing color?
If your child’s tooth died from being hit or bumped, the severity of the injury will determine what your dentist will recommend. It is important your child’s teeth be evaluated by a dentist to make sure more teeth were not damaged and to watch for bacteria that could cause a bigger problem around the tooth. But if everything checks out well, your dentist may recommend leaving the tooth until it falls out naturally. The tooth will most likely change color because it is no longer getting fresh blood cells bringing oxygen to the tooth, causing it to go from a natural white color to a grayish or even brown color.
What will the dentist recommend if my child's tooth becomes infected?
If your child’s primary tooth is severely damaged and is causing pain, has a bad smell, or they complain of a bad taste in their mouth, call your dentist immediately. These are signs of an infection, possibly due to a cavity, and should be immediately addressed. Similarly, if your child has a broken baby tooth still in the gums, seeing a dentist as soon as possible is recommended. When you take your child to the dentist, the tooth may be pulled or a root canal may be recommended to clean up the damaged root inside the tooth so that your child’s tooth can stay functional, even though it is no longer considered to be a living tooth.
Cavities, which are most common in children, occur when the sticky film called plaque is not properly cleaned off of the teeth. Sugars from foods stick to the plaque and allow bacteria to convert it into a type of acid that eventually wears down a spot on the tooth, causing a hole to develop and allowing more bacteria to get into the softer layers of the tooth.
What is a root canal?
A root canal treatment can be performed on a baby tooth because keeping the tooth in position will make sure no other teeth are negatively affected while taking out the infected pulp will prevent an infection from worsening.
Teeth have three layers which include:
- Enamel: the hard outer layer of the tooth
- Dentin: the slightly softer middle layer of the tooth
- Pulp: the soft inner layer of the tooth that is alive
During a root canal procedure, the dentist drills through the outer two layers of the tooth and into the root canal. The dentist will remove the infected pulp, apply medication to kill any germs, then seal the empty canal with a rubber-like material so it can not become infected again in the future.
Whether from trauma or cavities, your child’s baby tooth can still serve a purpose even if it is dead. Your child can wait for their tooth to fall out naturally and the new healthy permanent tooth to take the baby tooth’s place.
How Long Does It Take For a Baby Tooth to Reattach?
As with adult teeth, a tooth that has become loose from trauma can begin to reattach itself over a three to four-week period. Though sometimes, it can take as much as eight weeks to fully attach. If the pulp, or the innermost layer of the tooth, has become damaged and blood is not circulating through the tooth, the tooth can not reattach and a dentist will need to perform a root canal to prevent infection.
Can Baby Teeth Get Pushed Back In?
Baby teeth should NOT be pushed back into place if they are knocked out with the root still attached. If you were to have one of your permanent teeth knocked out by accident, which happens over five million times every year around the world, it is possible to save your tooth by:
- Finding your tooth
- Carefully rinsing it with cold water without ever touching the root
- Placing it back in the open socket within 30 minutes after the tooth left your mouth
The worst thing that can happen is the tooth does not reattach or causes some infection that can be dealt with via antibiotics. But at least you tried to save the tooth.
However, a primary tooth, or baby tooth, should NOT be put back into the open socket even if the baby tooth came out with the root attached. If a baby tooth is knocked out, the permanent tooth below in the gums must be taken into consideration. If for some reason the root of the baby tooth has bacteria or dirt on it that is not properly cleaned off, an infection deep in the socket would greatly affect the health of the permanent tooth.
Taking the knocked-out baby tooth or broken baby tooth with you to the dentist is important so your dentist can assess how much root or tooth is still in your child's gums. Your child may have to live without a tooth for a period of time while waiting for the permanent tooth to grow in, but that is better than ruining the healthy permanent tooth for the rest of your child’s life just to have a couple more years with the baby tooth.
Find a Dentist in Your Community
Whether your child needs a tooth to be evaluated by a dentist because they were recently hit in the mouth or has tooth decay that needs to be addressed, finding an experienced dentist in your community that sees pediatric patients is crucial to keeping your child’s mouth healthy. Let Smile Generation help you find the best dentist in your area through the Find a Dentist tool today.
What typically causes a baby tooth to become loose?
A baby tooth usually becomes loose naturally when it's time for it to fall out and be replaced by a permanent tooth. This loosening occurs because the roots of the baby tooth dissolve as the permanent tooth underneath pushes up.
Can a loose baby tooth reattach itself?
Once a baby tooth has become loose, it generally cannot reattach itself. The loosening of the tooth is part of a natural process where the roots of the tooth dissolve, making reattachment not feasible. If a tooth is only slightly loose, it might seem to stabilize temporarily, but this is usually just a phase before it becomes loose again and falls out.
What should be done if a baby tooth becomes loose due to an accident or injury?
If a baby tooth becomes loose due to an accident or injury, it's important to consult a dentist. The dentist can assess the situation to determine the appropriate care. This is especially crucial if there's uncertainty about whether the tooth is a baby tooth or a permanent tooth.
Is it necessary to pull a loose baby tooth?
In most cases, it's not necessary to pull a loose baby tooth. These teeth will typically fall out on their own. Encouraging a child to gently wiggle a very loose tooth can help it come out naturally, but forceful pulling is generally not recommended. If there are concerns about a loose tooth, such as it not falling out when it seems it should, a visit to the dentist is advisable.
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“Root Canals: FAQs About Treatment That Can Save Your Tooth.” Mouth Healthy, 8 Sep. 2022, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals