Now that school is back in session, so are school sports. And, with school sports comes a higher incidence of injuries. While many parents have thought of the possibility of their child getting a sprain or a broken bone on the playing field, they may not have considered the risk of dental trauma. But, in fact, children account for most dental trauma patients.
Approximately 30% of children have experienced dental emergencies, including teeth that are knocked out, fractured, forced out of position, pushed up, or loosened. Root fracture and dental bone fractures can also occur. Dental trauma may occur as a result of a sports mishap, an altercation, a fall inside or outside of the home, or other causes. Prompt treatment is essential for the long-term health of an injured tooth. Obtaining urgent dental care within 30 minutes can make the difference between saving or losing a tooth.
Not all dental trauma is experienced by school-aged children. Actually, the peak period for trauma to the primary teeth is 18 to 40 months of age, because this is a time of increased mobility for the relatively uncoordinated toddler. Injuries to primary teeth usually result from falls and collisions as the child learns to walk and run.
Dental trauma to permanent teeth happens twice as frequently to school-aged boys as girls. Sports accidents and fights are the most common cause of dental trauma in teenagers. If an unavoidable accident does happen, and the mouth is injured, there a few things you can do to help your child recover more quickly and completely, before you can get to an emergency pediatric dentist. Most importantly, please verify that your child is otherwise healthy after the accident and that their mouth or teeth are the only areas involved. If, after the accident, your child suffered a loss of consciousness, nausea, dizziness or vomiting, call your pediatrician or 911 immediately. Also, if you suspect that your child has a broken jaw or notice that his/her mouth moves to one side or the other when open, please take him/her directly to the emergency room.
The most time-critical dental emergency is when a permanent tooth is knocked out of the mouth. If this happens to your child, grab the knocked out tooth by the crown (tip of the tooth) and rinse it off under clean running water and place it in some cool milk, water with a pinch of table salt, or into a Save-a-Tooth kit. Do not scrub the tooth.The tissue that is still alive on the root of the tooth is the most important thing in determining the success of the tooth’s survival. Minutes do matter in this situation, and getting the tooth back in the socket within 30 minutes will give the tooth the best chance of survival.
Your pediatric dentist can place the tooth back in the socket, and on young permanent teeth the nerve of the tooth can sometimes reattach and remain healthy. On older children, a knocked out tooth will often need a root canal to remain healthy, but the dentist will evaluate each situation individually. Knocked out primary (baby) teeth are almost never re-implanted in the socket, but it is still important to call your dentist soon after the trauma to evaluate if any follow up care is needed.
When the tooth is only partially dislodged, apply a cold compress to the outside of the mouth or cheek and take an over-the-counter pain reliever (such as ibuprofen) if needed. Don’t use aspirin for pain relief, as it interferes with clotting. Seek urgent dental care immediately.
If a tooth is broken or chipped, try to find the pieces. If the tooth fractured cleanly, and in a large enough piece, it can often be re-bonded back together. Do not be overly concerned if you can not find the pieces. Your dentist can use amazing materials to replace the missing portion of the tooth. When done correctly, most people have a hard time recognizing a previously chipped tooth.
Hopefully, you will not need to use any of this information this school year, and your children will enjoy their daily activities and sports without incident. If a dental emergency does occur, seek urgent dental care immediately to help improve your child’s chances of a full and healthy recovery.