The best part about hockey isn’t the friendly competition or the skating. No, the best part about hockey is the fist-fighting. A National Hockey League (NHL) game without a few people being slammed into the boards, or without a few tussles, isn’t a real NHL game. While the players are covered head-to-toe in padding and protection, that doesn’t always stop a fist from connecting with a face and sending a tooth (or a Chiclet, as they call them) flying. Their gap-tooth smiles are badges of honor, and we love the grittiness it adds to their athlete personas.
While we’re hoping your young ones aren’t fighting on skates, dental injuries can happen in any sport, or even just from walking down the street. Whether it’s a misplaced elbow in a basketball game, or tripping over a sidewalk crack, injuries can happen. So when your child comes in barring a gap-toothed smile like Bobby Clarke and a freshly knocked-out tooth, what do you do?
First step: determine what kind of injury it is. There are three:

  • Avulsion
  • Fracture
  • Luxation

The kind of injury determines the next course of action. The second step is to determine if it was a permanent tooth that was lost or injured, or a primary tooth? Only permanent teeth should be reattached (as we’ll explain in a moment). In all cases, you should immediately contact your dentist for an emergency appointment.
An avulsion is when the tooth is entirely removed. In this case, handle the tooth gently. Do not hold it by the root, do not sterilize it, and do not wipe it with a cloth or towel. If these is dirt on it, gently rinse it in milk. You can reimplant the tooth and stabilize it by gently biting into a towel. If the tooth will not slip into the socket (do not, in any circumstance, force it in), place the tooth in saline solution, milk, water, or under your child’s tongue (only do this last one if you’re confident the child will not swallow it). Keeping the tooth wet is key to preserving it. Time is of the essence; reimplantation is most successful when done within 30 minutes.
A fracture is when the tooth is broken. If the tooth breaks in half, save the broken portion just as you would save an avulsed tooth (in saline, milk, or water.) The injured person may be in a lot of pain if the nerve is exposed, and there may be bleeding. Use a towel to gently staunch the bleeding, and report immediately to your emergency dentist appointment.
A luxation is when the tooth is still in the socket but has been pushed into the wrong position. It can be crooked, pushed out of the socket, or pushed deeper into the socket. Because repositioning can be very painful, the most you can do is stabilize by gently biting a towel and report to the dentist.
Regardless of the injury, remember to first contact your dentist. They will know exactly what to do depending on the case.
While we love when hockey players have gap-toothed smiles, we probably don’t want that for our families, and definitely don’t want the financial burden of needing cosmetic teeth. To avoid injuries in sports–especially in contact sports like hockey, football, or lacrosse–be sure to wear a mouthguard. While dental injuries are still possible, they are much less likely if you’ve got a good mouthguard.
Life happens, and whether you’re playing a sport or just walking down the street, you’re at risk for dental injuries. Knowing the appropriate steps will hopefully give you confidence and ease your worries. So, enjoy your daughter’s hockey game, or your son’s football game; if a tooth goes flying, you’ll know what to do.