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Friday, May 19, 2006

Put that tooth back right now!

"The tooth fairy exists: it is Mr Moller (or is it "Molar"?) and he's working for the ACC. Mr Moller wants every one to save their teeth!"
So went the news headline in Truth - New Zealand's only tabloid newspaper back in 1980. Humorous? Yes. Effective? Yes. Great publicity for a good cause.
I was the Accident Compensation Commission's National Coordinator of Sports and Recreation Safety at the time. After reading my brother Gordon's dental thesis a year earlier on the "Reimplantation of avulsed teeth", I decided to run an education campaign that was principally directed at dentists, teachers and the coaches and parents of young people playing sports like rugby, netball and hockey. The message was simple and it is probably time to remind people about it:
  • If a permanent tooth is knocked out by the roots, it can be successfully reimplanted, especially if the vicitm is young
  • Time is of the essence - reimplant the tooth within 30 minutes and the chances are very good that it will be saved
So, if your tooth is knocked out, what is the procedure?
  • Find the tooth quickly
  • Do not touch the root because you do not want to do any more damage to the delicate tissues of the tooth's base - handle it gently
  • Wash it gently under cold running water
  • If possible, gently reinsert the tooth into the gum socket, from whence it came (be sure that it is facing the right way round!)
  • Or, place the tooth in the pocket between the gums and the cheek
  • If it is a child's permanent tooth, the adult might be better to store the tooth in their mouth, rather than the child's
  • Alternatively, place the tooth in a cup of cold milk
  • Get to a dentist right away
On this last point; there is little to be achieved rushing off to an accident and emergency clinic only to have to wait an hour for a dentist. This is just too long and the chances of the tooth successfully reimplating diminish dramatically from 30 minutes on. This is an occasion that demands that you be assertive. The people on reception, despite their training, probably know little about the urgency required for reimplantation of an avulsed tooth, so you have to make sure it happens lickety-split!
Of course, you could go straight to your dentist; but these kinds of injuries often happen outside normal working hours, like during the weekend while playing sport. You may find that you have little choice but to use the medical emergency clinic. So, demand quick action. Even if a dentist is not immediately available, any trained medic should be capable of completing the initial reimplantation and stabilising of the tooth in its socket. The dentist can take over later to complete the job as well as assessing and treating any damage to other teeth or surrounding mouth structures.
This has been a simple message from the tooth fairy. If you have children, why not make sure that the school and their sports coaches are aware of it, just in case an accident happens and your beautiful child is suddenly made toothless?

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