Why put a tooth in milk when it falls out?

October 14, 2021

Why put a tooth in milk when it falls out?
Avulsed tooth (knocked out tooth) should be placed in a glass of milk before the dentist reinserts it into the socket

It is common for a tooth to get knocked out while playing sports, on the playground, or even during a fight. The shock and pain of such an event can send patients into a panic. However, keeping calm and acting quickly is important if there is any hope of saving the knocked-out tooth. So is putting a tooth in milk when it falls out. Why milk? Here are the things to know:


Why preserve a knocked-out tooth?

Researchers estimate that over 5 million teeth get knocked out each year. But it isn’t the end of the world. With proper care, it is possible to save the tooth by keeping it viable and replanting it successfully in the original socket. That said, there is a narrow time window. Between five and 60 minutes the tooth maintains a good survival rate as long as it has been properly stored. But if the tooth is out of the mouth for more than 60 minutes the chance for survival significantly decreases.


What to do with a knocked-out tooth?

Once the tooth or pieces of the tooth are located it is important to handle them carefully. The tooth needs to be handled only by the crown, and not by the roots. If the tooth is dirty, clean it by gently rinsing it with milk or water. Do not scrub it or use any type of cleaning agent. And if possible, try to replace the tooth in the empty socket, pushing it very gently with the fingers and then holding it in place by gently biting down. Another option is to store it between the cheek and gums so saliva can keep it moist. Then get to a dentist within the next 30 minutes. This is the best-case scenario when trying to save a knocked-out tooth.


What if the tooth cannot be placed in the socket?

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to put the tooth immediately back in the empty socket or tuck it in the cheek. This is especially true if the patient is young and might accidentally swallow the tooth. When this occurs, it is important to keep the tooth safe and not allow it to dry out. This is why dentists recommend storing it in a small cup of milk. The objective is to keep the tooth vital until it can be replaced in the socket. Milk is a good temporary preservative because it has a chemical makeup compatible with teeth. It does not matter if it is whole milk, two percent, one percent, or skim milk.  Milk contains several substances including antibacterial agents, proteins, and sugars that cells on the root need to survive. It also helps maintain the right balance of acids.


What if milk is not available?

In some cases, milk will not be readily available. The next best solution is to have the patient spit into a cup and store the tooth in the saliva. Water should be used as a last resort because even tap water might contain high enough levels of chlorine to kill the tooth root and make the tooth more difficult to save.


What happens next?

Once the tooth is safely recovered and stored, it is important to contact an emergency dentist. They will get you into the first available appointment, preferably within an hour. In the office, the tooth is re-implanted and splinted to the adjacent teeth to keep it in place. The dentist will decide how long the splint remains in place. If the bone around the socket is not fractured, it usually takes the root three to four weeks to reattach. 


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