Dental trauma is injury to the mouth, including teeth, lips, gums, tongue, and jawbones. The most common dental trauma is a broken or lost tooth.
Dental trauma may be inflicted in a number of ways: contact sports, motor vehicle accidents, fights, falls, eating hard foods, drinking hot liquids, and other such mishaps. As oral tissues are highly sensitive, injuries to the mouth are typically very painful. Dental trauma should receive prompt treatment from a dentist.
Causes and symptoms
Soft tissue injuries, such as a “fat lip,” a burned tongue, or a cut inside the cheek, are characterized by pain, redness, and swelling with or without bleeding. A broken tooth often has a sharp edge that may cut the tongue and cheek. Depending on the position of the fracture, the tooth may or may not cause toothache pain. When a tooth is knocked out (evulsed), the socket is swollen, painful, and bloody. A jawbone may be broken if the upper and lower teeth no longer fit together properly (malocclusion), or if the jaws have pain with limited ability to open and close (mobility), especially around the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).
Dental trauma is readily apparent upon examination. Dental x-rays may be taken to determine the extent of the damage to broken teeth. More comprehensive x-rays are needed to diagnose a broken jaw.
Soft tissue injuries may require only cold compresses to reduce swelling. Bleeding may be controlled with direct pressure applied with clean gauze. Deep lacerations and punctures may require stitches. Pain may be managed with aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, Aspirin Free Excedrin) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil).
Treatment of a broken tooth will vary depending on the severity of the fracture. For immediate first aid, the injured tooth and surrounding area should be rinsed gently with warm water to remove dirt, then covered with a cold compress to reduce swelling and ease pain. A dentist should examine the injury as soon as possible. Any pieces from the broken tooth should be saved and brought along.
If a piece of the outer tooth has chipped off, but the inner core (pulp) is undisturbed, the dentist may simply smooth the rough edges or replace the missing section with a small composite filling. In some cases, a fragment of broken tooth may be bonded back into place. If enough tooth is missing to compromise the entire tooth structure, but the pulp is not permanently damaged, the tooth will require a protective coverage with a gold or porcelain crown. If the pulp has been seriously damaged, the tooth will require root canal treatment before it receives a crown. A tooth, that is vertically fractured or fractured below the gumline will require root canal treatment and protective restoration. A tooth that no longer has enough remaining structure to retain a crown may have to be extracted (surgically removed).
When a permanent tooth has been knocked out, it may be saved with prompt action. The tooth must be found immediately after it has been lost. It should be picked up by the natural crown (the top part covered by hard enamel). It must not be handled by the root. If the tooth is dirty, it may be gently rinsed under running water. It should never be scrubbed, and it should never be washed with soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, or other chemicals. The tooth should not be dried or wrapped in a tissue or cloth. It must be kept moist at all times.
The tooth may be placed in a clean container of milk, cool water with or without a pinch of salt, or in saliva. If possible, the patient and the tooth should be brought to the dentist within 30 minutes of the tooth loss. Rapid action improves the chances of successful re-implantation; however, it is possible to save a tooth after 30 minutes, if the tooth has been kept moist and handled properly.
The body usually rejects re-implantation of a primary (baby) tooth. In this case, the empty socket is treated as a soft tissue injury and monitored until the permanent tooth erupts.
A broken jaw must be set back into its proper position and stabilized with wires while it heals. Healing may take six weeks or longer, depending on the patient’s age and the severity of the fracture.
Most dental trauma is preventable. Car seat belts should always be worn, and young children should be secured in appropriate car seats. Homes should be monitored for potential tripping and slipping hazards. Child-proofing measures should be taken, especially for toddlers. In addition to placing gates across stairs and padding sharp table edges, electrical cords should be tucked away. Young children may receive severe oral burns from gnawing on live power cords.
Everyone who participates in contact sports should wear a mouthguard to avoid dental trauma. Athletes in football, ice hockey, wrestling, and boxing commonly wear mouthguards. The mandatory use of mouthguards in football prevents about 200,000 oral injuries annually. Mouthguards should also be worn along with helmets in noncontact sports such as skate-boarding, in-line skating, and bicycling. An athlete who does not wear a mouthguard is 60 times more likely to sustain dental trauma than one who does. Any activity involving speed, an increased chance of falling, and potential contact with a hard piece of equipment has the likelihood of dental trauma that may be prevented or substantially reduced in severity with the use of mouthguards.
Do you have a dental trauma? Contact MY-DENTISTRY for an immediate appointment with one of your local dental healthcare professionals.