February is Children’s Dental Health Month and when talking about dental health we usually stress good dental hygiene, which, of course, never stops being important. Another issue to consider being prepared for is dental trauma and how to manage an accident so that it doesn’t have a long lasting impact.
Several published studies point out that children who have experienced dental trauma report that it lowered their oral-health-related quality of life, including negatively impacting their self-esteem. The long term effects of the loss of a tooth due to trauma or disease may include tooth migration, additional tooth loss, and even jawbone loss. If a permanent tooth is damaged or lost, the effects on appearance and ability to eat and speak may result in a child not wanting to smile, speak in front of class, or interact with friends as much. The pain involved with dental trauma may also result in a child developing fear around dental procedures or oral care.
Dental trauma can happen at any time, and we can take steps to reduce the chances and the resulting distress. One of the ways to protect your child’s teeth during sports and activities is with a mouthguard. Mouthguards are recommended for high-contact sports, and also for daily activities we may not typically think of as posing risks for dental trauma, such as gymnastics, biking, and skating. Mouthguards – as the name suggests – don’t just protect teeth, but also the tongue, cheeks, gums, and lips and do so even if a blow is not directly to the face but there is some other impact on the body that causes the mouth to slam shut. Even a minor injury could be enough to crack a tooth and lead to nerve damage or infection.
Mouthguards come in several styles from ready-made to completely custom made by a dentist. The key features to look for in a mouthguard are fit and comfort, durability, and ease of cleaning. Fit includes being able to continue to breathe and speak comfortably while wearing it. They can be kept clean by using antiseptic mouth rinse and/or toothpaste and brush. They should be stored in a hard, perforated container that will protect from damage and allow air flow. Also, most require protection from extreme temperatures, and should be checked by the dentist regularly.
If an accident does occur, it is also good to be prepared. If a baby tooth is lost, it probably won’t need to be replaced, although it is still a good idea to have your child see the dentist to determine whether there is additional damage or anything should be done to protect the other teeth. If an adult tooth is knocked out, it is a medical emergency and it may be possible to replace it if done right away.
· Find the tooth, handle it as little as possible, do not touch the root, try to place it back in the socket but if that doesn’t work, place the tooth in a container of milk or your child’s own saliva, NOT in tap water!
· Rinse the mouth with warm water or a salt-water solution, have the child bite down on a piece of gauze to help stop bleeding. For pain, use an icepack wrapped in a clean cloth and that can be inside the mouth or held on the cheek or jaw.
· If a dentist is not available at the time of the accident, and the trauma requires immediate medical attention, definitely go to the hospital emergency department.
· A chipped or cracked tooth also needs to be seen to asap, even if it doesn’t cause pain right away, because infection could occur. Tooth infections can spread throughout the body, potentially causing long-term health problems.
If you are interested in reading more about first aid and oral health, these are some good resources.
If you would like to learn more about the mental and social impact of dental injuries for children, the following are research sources.