Introduction 

It's common to break, chip or knock out a tooth after a blow to the face, or even after eating something hard.

If the tooth is just chipped, you should make a non-emergency dental appointment to have it smoothed down and filled. If the tooth has been knocked out or is badly broken, see a dentist immediately. Find your nearest dentist.

While you wait to see a dentist, you can follow the advice below on how to care for your broken or knocked-out tooth. It covers what to do in the following situations:

A knocked-out tooth that you still have

The sooner a knocked-out tooth is reimplanted, the more likely it is to embed itself back into the gum. If you don't want to be left with a gap, make an emergency appointment to see your dentist and follow this advice:

  • Handle the tooth by the white bit at the top (the crown) and avoid touching the root.
  • Do not scrape or brush the tooth.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it with milk or a saline (salt water) solution and try to put the tooth back into its socket in your mouth as soon as possible. Do not rinse the tooth with water or alcohol.
  • When the tooth is back in its socket, bite down onto a clean piece of material (such as a handkerchief) or a wet tea bag to keep it in place.
  • If you cannot reimplant the tooth, hold it between your cheek and gum until you manage to see a dentist, or store the tooth in a clean container and cover it with milk or a small amount of your saliva.

The above advice only applies to adult teeth – children's milk teeth should not be reimplanted as an adult tooth will soon grow in its place.

At the dentist

Usually, your dentist will want to reimplant your tooth as soon as possible, ideally within an hour of it being knocked out. If you have already attempted this yourself, they will check that the tooth is in place correctly.

The tooth will then be splinted to the teeth next to it to hold it in place while it heals. Clear plastic or a thin piece of wire will be used. You may need to keep the splint on for one or more weeks – your dentist will advise you.

A lost tooth

Most people choose to have a lost tooth replaced, especially if it is a front tooth. Your dentist will replace the tooth with either:

  • a denture – a removable acrylic (plastic) or metal tooth that is clipped onto other teeth with metal clasps
  • a bridge – the false tooth is permanently fixed to the teeth either side of the gap using special cement 
  • an implant – a false tooth is permanently fixed to the jawbone using titanium screws by drilling down into the jawbone (this requires a minor surgical procedure using local anaesthetic)

The above treatments can be provided on the NHS. Find out more about different dental treatments.

A denture, bridge or implant may improve the appearance of your smile and make eating easier. If a missing tooth is not replaced, it may affect the way your upper and lower teeth bite together, and the neighbouring teeth may start to grow at an angle into the gap.

However, not everyone needs to have their tooth replaced, and some people don't mind having a gap. Speak to your dentist about your options. 

A broken or chipped tooth

If you have broken your tooth, do not try to reimplant the fragment back into your gum – store it in a clean container and cover the fragment with milk or saliva until you can see a dentist. It may be possible to reattach the broken fragment to the tooth.

If you have just chipped the edge of one of the front teeth, your dentist will probably smooth the uneven edge and replace the missing bit with a tooth-coloured filling.

If part of a back tooth (molar) is broken and a section of the chewing surface has broken away, it will probably be replaced with a filling or a crown (a cap that covers your tooth).

If you have broken a tooth halfway down and damaged the network of blood vessels and nerves in its centre (the pulp), root canal treatment will be needed to remove the damaged pulp from your tooth, as this can become infected. The space will then be filled and the tooth sealed with a filling or a crown.

Learn more about root canal treatment.

All these treatments can be provided on the NHS.

Protecting your teeth during sports

If you play a contact sport such as rugby, it is worth investing in a rubber mouthguard to protect your teeth from any knocks.

You can buy mouthguards from some sports shops, or you can ask your dentist to take a mould of your teeth and make a special mouthguard that fits your mouth.

Dental health

How to care for your teeth, including check-ups, brushing, braces and whitening

Page last reviewed: 24/02/2014

Next review due: 24/02/2016