Not too long after your baby's teeth grow in, you begin to start watching them to fall out. That first lost tooth in kindergarten or first grade is a milestone, and subsequent tooth loss is celebrated with visits from the tooth fairy and avid interest in the progress of the permanent tooth growing underneath. But once the baby teeth are gone and all of the permanent teeth are in, tooth loss stops being a source of celebration and becomes something to avoid at all costs.
The last thing that you want is for your child to have to deal with a missing permanent tooth. However, a bicycle accident or a poorly-aimed baseball may knock out a tooth despite all your precautions. Here's what to know about replacing it.
What To Do First
The first thing that you need to do is find out if the tooth can be re-implanted. If you can find the tooth and you act quickly, this is possible. Locate the tooth and rinse it off if it's dirty. Don't scrub it – this can damage delicate cells in the root that are needed for proper re-implantation. Just rinse it gently and place it in a cup of milk or water.
Get to the dentist as quickly as possible. With or without the missing tooth, a dislodged adult tooth is a dental emergency, and your child needs to be treated by a dentist immediately. Your dentist will attempt to reinsert the tooth into the socket. If the cells on the root of the tooth are still alive and healthy, then the tooth will grasp the bottom of the socket and reattach itself. However, if you wait too long, or if the tooth is too damaged, then you'll have to look into other methods of tooth replacement.
Can Children Get Dental Implants?
Dental implants may appear to be a simple and sensible solution to a knocked out tooth that can't be replaced. Implants are inserted into the gap where the tooth used to be, and they have a titanium root that bonds with the jawbone. This root is topped with a crown that looks and functions exactly like a natural tooth.
Unfortunately, for young children and those in early adolescence, dental implants aren't an option. Dentists don't recommend dental implants for patients whose jaw bones haven't stopped growing yet. The still growing jawbone could pull an implant out of place, causing misaligned teeth and pain. Bone growth ends at around 17 or 18 years of age for boys, and at around 14 or 15 years of age for girls. Therefore, a boy younger than 17 or a girl younger than 14 will probably not be a good candidate for dental implants. What you can do is look into a temporary tooth replacement option, and your child can get the implants later, when their bones are fully formed.
If your child is too young for dental implants, don't worry. You still have a number of options available. Your child can get a flipper – this is a removable dental device that is something like a denture, but for just one tooth. It will fill the gap, but your child will have to adjust to differences in their speech and bite.
Braces are another option – a false tooth can be installed on an orthodontic wire in some cases. If your child needs braces anyway, this is a relatively simple temporary option. Bonding may also be a solution. It's unusual, but in some cases, dentists can bond a false tooth onto an existing tooth to fill in a gap. Whether this is an option for your child depends largely on their tooth positioning and the location of the missing tooth.
A missing permanent tooth is never ideal, but it's not an insurmountable problem either. Talk to your dentist about your options, and reassure your child that if implants aren't an option now, they will be eventually.