Tooth avulsions (or knocked-out teeth) are among the most common dental emergencies in the United States. In both children and adults, over 5 million teeth are knocked out due to injuries caused by accidents, contact sports and general roughhousing. Fortunately, a knocked-out tooth doesn't mean the end for your perfect smile.

If you act quickly and carefully, you keep your tooth healthy enough for an immediate visit with an emergency dentist. The following illustrates how you can preserve your tooth once it's been knocked out of its socket.  

Handle With Care

Keeping the tooth as clean as possible is an absolute must if there's any hope of saving it. Your very own hands carry germs and bacteria that could compromise and further deteriorate the tooth if it's handled improperly. For this reason, it's essential to keep your hands as far away from the root as possible. Instead, always carry the tooth by the crown portion and never the root.

Don't be tempted to scrape away any dirt or debris that happens to get on the root. Gently rinse the tooth with milk or water, instead. Also refrain from brushing the tooth or cleaning the tooth in hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, as doing so could cause even more damage to the tooth itself.

Reinsert the Tooth as Soon as You Can

Once you've found and rinsed your tooth, it's usually best to insert the tooth back into its socket immediately. This not only helps keep the osteoblasts within the tooth root alive, but it also gives them the opportunity to naturally re-anchor the tooth back in place. When reinserting the tooth, make sure it sits level with the other surrounding teeth. To help keep the tooth in place, bite down on a thick piece of gauze or similar material. For instance, you can bite down on a wet tea bag to keep your tooth stabilized in anticipation of your dentists' visit.

If there's dirt or debris on the root, or if you can't get the tooth back into the socket, immediately place the tooth in a cup of milk or saline solution. Both liquids come closest to mimicking saliva and, as a result, are best at preserving the delicate cells within the root. If you don't have any milk or saline around, place the tooth in your mouth between the cheek and gums and keep it there until you can get to the dentist.

Time Is of the Essence

When dealing with a knocked-out tooth, the last thing you can afford to do is delay. Replanting the tooth within a 5-minute timeframe offers the best results for recovery. Beyond that, the chances for proper recovery dwindle as the minutes tick past. The osteoblasts within the root begin to die off after 15 minutes. Within an hour, the tooth itself will be functionally dead. Even if the tooth is replanted at that point, the root will slowly dissolve until it disappears.

It's important to see your dentist as soon as possible to have the tooth examined and stabilized. In most cases, your dentist will use a splint to keep the tooth in place until it naturally reattaches to the bone. This usually takes up to 8 weeks, depending on the level of damage to the tooth. If the tooth is significantly decayed, your dentist may perform a root canal procedure to remove the damaged or infected pulp within the tooth root.

With the proper care and attention, you'll be able to save your tooth. If you regularly play sports or perform activities with a high likelihood of tooth loss, you may want to invest in a mouth guard or other protective dental gear.