The Tooth, The Whole Tooth, and Nothing But the Tooth By Natalie Sell

Have you ever heard that you should put a tooth in milk if it falls out? Turns out, there’s actually some truth to it. Milk can keep the root of the tooth moist until you can reach a dentist, although it isn’t ideal.

The next course of action is to put the tooth back in its socket. This is the best way to keep the ligament trailing from the root moist and have a chance at reimplanting. If replacing the tooth isn’t an option due to pain or injury, it can be placed between the cheek and gum. Unless it’s in danger of being swallowed, those are the main options.

You can put it in a glass of milk if you really want to, but it’s more effective to simply put it back in the socket. Milk is better than tap water for transporting a tooth in because it’s not hypotonic to the cells on the root surface, which can burst and further damage the root if the tooth is put in water. In addition to the osmotic pressure, the chlorine in tap water can damage the root. According to Dr. Kimberly Harms, an American Dental Association spokeswoman, the critical period for reimplanting a tooth is about an hour, but the success rate drops the longer the tooth is out, so try to get to the dentist before then.

What about other body parts -for example, a finger? Does this apply? Short answer: absolutely not. Do not put your severed fingers in milk. If you do accidentally chop your finger off, the first step is, again, to find it and rinse it off. Next, wrap it in a damp (preferably clean) cloth or paper towel to transport it to the hospital or keep it with you while waiting for paramedics.

It helps to keep it cold, which generally reduces swelling and bleeding, but don’t put it directly in ice; this could damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to reattach. Instead, wrap the finger in a damp cloth, put it in an airtight plastic bag and place it in ice water. You shouldn’t put it directly in ice water either, because the water is hypotonic to the cells, so water would diffuse into them and potentially cause them to burst.

Even though anyone’s first instinct would most likely be to compress the wound, there’s a higher chance they’ll be able to reattach the finger if you just elevate your hand- you probably won’t bleed to death. Fingers generally need to be reattached within 12 hours.

Milk has many uses, but probably shouldn’t be the go-to for a severed limb. So if a body part unexpectedly falls off, I wouldn’t recommend sticking it in a glass of milk and hoping for the best. You might want to see a doctor.