Famed educator Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the work of the child”—and most kids take their “work” very seriously. But their avid enthusiasm might also raise the risk of blunt force injuries, particularly to the mouth.
While you should certainly take steps to protect their mouth (like a custom-made guard for contact sports), you can’t completely erase the risk. You should know, therefore, what to do in case of a mouth injury.
The lips, tongue, and other soft oral tissues often get the brunt of any contact injury, ranging from minor bruising and swelling to severe cuts that require medical attention. First, clean the area as thoroughly as possible to remove trapped dirt or debris in the wound. If bleeding occurs, apply continuous gentle pressure with a clean cloth or gauze for 10-15 minutes until it stops, and cold compresses for any swelling. If the wound looks deep or severe, take them to an emergency room.
Blunt force can also impact teeth in a variety of ways. If part of a tooth chips, attempt to find the pieces and see a dentist as soon as possible—they may be able to bond the pieces back to the tooth. If a tooth gets moved out of place, call your dentist immediately or go to an emergency room after hours.
If a permanent tooth gets completely knocked out, find it and rinse off any debris with clean water. Then, place it gently back into its socket, or alternatively between the child’s cheek and gum or in a glass of cold milk. You’ll need to see a dentist as soon as possible to have the tooth replanted. With this kind of injury, time is of the essence.
A hard impact can also fracture the jawbone, which may be suspected if the face appears distorted or the teeth can’t make contact with each other when the jaws are shut. Control any bleeding, apply cold compresses or mild pain relievers to ease any pain or swelling, and go to an emergency room immediately.
A traumatic injury can heighten everyone’s emotions, including yours. You can avoid your emotions turning into panic, though, by following these common sense guidelines to help your child get through this unfortunate event.
Surgical tooth extraction is a fairly routine procedure with few complications. But one rare complication called dry socket does affect a small number of patients. Dry socket, which derives its name from its appearance, can be quite painful. Fortunately, though, it doesn't pose a danger to oral health.
Normally after a surgical extraction, a blood clot forms in the empty socket. This is nature's way of protecting the underlying bone and nerves from various stimuli in the mouth as well as protecting the area. Sometimes, though, the clot fails to form or only forms partially (almost exclusively in lower wisdom teeth), exposing the sensitive tissues beneath the socket.
Patients begin to notice the painful effects from a dry socket about three or four days after surgery, which then can persist for one to three more days. Besides dull or throbbing pain, people may also experience a foul odor or taste in their mouth.
People who smoke, women taking oral contraceptives or those performing any activity that puts pressure on the surgical site are more likely to develop dry socket. Of the latter, one of the most common ways to develop dry socket is vigorous brushing of the site too soon after surgery, which can damage a forming blood clot.
Surgeons do take steps to reduce the likelihood of a dry socket by minimizing trauma to the site during surgery, avoiding bacterial contamination and suturing the area. You can also decrease your chances of developing a dry socket by avoiding the following for the first day or so after surgery:
- brushing the surgical area (if advised by your surgeon);
- rinsing too aggressively;
- drinking through a straw or consuming hot liquid;
If a dry socket does develop, see your dentist as soon as possible. Dentists can treat the site with a medicated dressing and relieve the pain substantially. The dressing will need to be changed every few days until the pain has decreased significantly, and then left in place to facilitate faster healing.
While dry sockets do heal and won't permanently damage the area, it can be quite uncomfortable while it lasts. Taking precautions can prevent it—and seeing a dentist promptly if it occurs can greatly reduce your discomfort.
If you would like more information on oral surgery, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Socket: A Painful but Not Dangerous Complication of Oral Surgery.”
A loose baby tooth is normal and expected; a loose permanent tooth is quite another matter: it’s an advanced sign of disease that could lead to losing the tooth.
The reasons for its looseness may vary. You may have experienced “primary occlusal trauma,” in which the teeth have experienced a prolonged excessive biting force beyond their tolerance. This can be caused by habitual grinding or clenching the teeth.
You may have also experienced “secondary occlusal trauma”: although the biting forces are within normal ranges, the teeth still can’t handle the stress due to degraded bone support and gum tissue detachment. Clenching habits combined with weakened bone and gums will only accelerate and worsen the damage.
The most frequent cause in adults for loose teeth is secondary trauma from periodontal (gum) disease. Bacterial plaque built up on teeth from poor oral hygiene causes a chronic infection that eventually weakens gum attachment to the teeth. A loose tooth is a late sign of this damage.
Treatment for disease-based loose teeth has a twofold approach. First, we thoroughly clean the tooth, root and gum surfaces of all plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) to reduce the infection and inflammation and restore tissue health. This is often accompanied by antibiotic treatments to reduce bacteria below the gum tissue.
For the loose teeth themselves, we may need to modify the forces against them while the gums and bone heal. One way to lessen the biting force on a tooth is to reshape its and the opposing tooth’s biting surfaces. For extensive looseness we can also splint the affected tooth or teeth with other teeth. Temporarily, we can apply splinting material to the outside of both the loose and stable teeth or cut a small channel into them and apply bonding material to join them. A permanent option is to crown both the affected teeth and nearby stable teeth and fuse the crowns together.
These and other stabilizing techniques, like occlusal night guards to reduce the effects of teeth grinding or orthodontic treatment, will help secure the teeth. Coupled with disease treatment and renewed dental care and hygiene practices, you may be able to keep that loose tooth from being lost.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
- If a tooth is knocked loose or pushed deeper into the socket, don’t force the tooth back into position.
- If you crack a tooth, rinse your mouth but don’t wiggle the tooth or bite down on it.
- If you chip or break a tooth, save the tooth fragment and store it in milk or saliva. You can keep it against the inside of your cheek (not recommend for small children who are at greater risk of swallowing the tooth).
- If the entire tooth comes out, pick up the tooth without touching the root end. Gently rinse it off and store it in milk or saliva. You can try to push the tooth back into the socket yourself, but many people feel uneasy about doing this. The important thing is to not let the tooth dry out and to contact us immediately. Go to the hospital if you cannot get to the dental office.
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
If you have periodontal (gum) disease, you’ve no doubt experienced red and swollen gums. If, however, you notice an especially inflamed area next to a tooth, you may have developed a gum abscess.
An abscess is a pus-filled sac that develops as a result of chronic (long-standing) gum disease, an infection caused by bacterial plaque that’s built up on tooth surfaces from inadequate oral hygiene or from a foreign body (food debris) getting stuck below the gums. The abscess, which typically develops between the tooth and gums, may be accompanied by pain but not always (the affected tooth may also be tender to bite on). Abscesses may grow larger, precipitated by stress or by a general infection like a common cold, and then abate for a time.
As with other abscesses in the body, a gum abscess is treated by relieving the pressure (after numbing the area with local anesthesia) and allowing it to drain. This is often followed by cleaning any infected root surfaces of bacterial plaque and then irrigating the area with a saline and/or antibacterial solution. We may also prescribe antibiotics afterward and some form of pain control (usually a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen) to help with discomfort.
Although the results of this procedure can be dramatic, it’s just the first step in treating the overall gum disease. After a few days of healing, we continue with a complete examination and recommend further treatment, usually starting with removing bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), the underlying cause for the infection and inflammation, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions before we begin seeing the gum tissues return to a healthier state.
The key to preventing an abscess recurrence (or any symptom of gum disease) is to remove plaque everyday through proper brushing and flossing, and visiting us twice a year (or more if you’ve developed chronic gum disease) for cleanings and checkups. Doing so will raise your chances of avoiding an uncomfortable and often painful gum abscess in the future.
If you would like more information on gum abscesses, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Periodontal (Gum) Abscesses.”
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