Ask the Dentist: Boning up on the hard realities of dental damage

The body's response to the trauma of a broken tooth can lead to the growth of a bony replacement, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care

The body can respond to a broken tooth by growing bone in its place
Lucy Stock

WHEN is a tooth not a tooth? When it turns to bone.

When you see a tooth changing on X-rays from its normal root structure into a new petrified state of bone you would be forgiven for thinking that a Harry Potter Hardening Charm was responsible for this strange metamorphosis but unfortunately the real reason is less wizardly.

This calcific change does happen and it's more common than imagined. The body is a weird and wonderful place - when all is calm in the land it will work very well but it's intensely sensitive to any stimulus that we subject it to.

Cells will react in an instant to changes in their environment. Take the rather traumatic event of receiving a hockey ball to the mouth which sends a front tooth bloodily soaring onto the pitch.

An elite army of cells will be abruptly woken up and rapidly race to the scene to try and plug the gap.

A split second after the tooth is ripped from the mouth, the delicate cells on its root surface begin to disintegrate.

This is why speed is of the essence when trying to locate the wayward tooth and care should be taken to pick it up by the crown (not by the root as this damages the cells even more) before gently shoving it back into the socket.

This is easier said than achieved in reality, when the casualty is shocked, and you are faced with what to do with a grubby tooth that's just landed in the dirt.

The tooth can be carefully washed with milk or the person's own spit if the tooth is really dirty.

After the tooth is replaced and the necessary emergency dentistry is completed, time will tell what way the tooth responds.

If luck is shining the tooth can function normally for years without any issues.

Sometimes the tooth will die due to the blood supply being unable to replumb itself fast enough back into the reimplanted tooth.

On other occasions, if the cells on the root have been completely destroyed then the body won't recognise the tooth as a root any more and bony replacement occurs.

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