The Tooth Fairy has visited my family twice in less than a month. My 7-year-old is a big believer in any mythical figure that leaves him either money or toys. While the loss of my son's two front teeth were expected, sometimes the loss of a tooth can be highly unexpected. This is why it's good to have a game plan.

If a young child has a baby tooth knocked out, chipped or broken, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises parents to:

  • Contact your child's pediatric dentist, or your family dentist immediately.
  • Rinse his or her mouth with warm water and apply cold compresses to reduce swelling. Getting a very  young, and very upset child to rinse and spit may be difficult, but try your best. You may have to demo the ol' swish-'n'-rinse a few times first. Most kids like to spit, so this may work to distract them from the pain, too.
  • Spend time comforting your child rather than looking for the lost baby tooth - typically, baby teeth cannot be replanted.

If your  older child loses an adult tooth, the stakes are higher, and the AAPD recommends the following:

  • Find the tooth. Rinse it carefully in cool water. Do not scrub the tooth or use soap on it. Scrubbing the tooth can wash away the natural periodontal ligaments sticking to it. These ligaments are the connective tissue that serve as the "glue" between the tooth and the bone, and are needed for the tooth to survive. Later, a dentist will irrigate the tooth and the socket and rinse away any dirt and grit.
  • Have your child rinse their mouth with warm water.   
  • Replace the tooth in the socket and hold it there with clean gauze or a washcloth, or a clean finger. The blood-rich environment of the socket is the best place for it until you can get professional help.
  • If you cannot put the tooth back in the socket, place it in a clean container with milk, water or saliva, or keep a Sav-A-Tooth Emergency Tooth Preserving System or EMT Tooth Saver on hand for emergencies. These kits contain a special solution to keep the ligaments alive for 24 hours. One kit can store up to three teeth, and costs around $15. Find them at drugstores, dentist offices, or order one through www.save-a-tooth.com.
  • Take your child and the tooth to a dentist immediately.

For a simple toothache, parents should rinse their child's mouth with warm water, and apply a cold compress or ice wrapped in a cloth. Then call a dentist immediately for an appointment. Do not apply heat to the sore area.

The AAPD advises seeing a pediatric dentist after your child's first birthday, or by the time  their first tooth appears. Pediatric dentists may be harder to find, but trust me, he or she is well worth it. Most family dentists won't see children below a certain age, while pediatric dentists only treat children, and specialize in treating infants and toddlers.