Dental trauma is when an injury has caused damage to teeth and/or adjacent structures such as the gums, the periodontal ligament (the tissues lining the tooth socket) or the bone. These types of injuries are most common in young children through to young adults. It has been reported that 25% of all school children and 33% of adults have experienced injury to their teeth. Seeking appropriate dental help, as well as medical help, as soon as possible is essential for achieving the best longevity for an injured tooth or teeth.
Common causes of dental trauma:
- Protruded front teeth
- Risk-taking behaviours, alcohol-related behaviours
- Unsafe environments i.e. playgrounds etc.
- Contact sports
- Accidents/impact events e.g. motor vehicle accidents, assaults
- Inappropriate use of teeth e.g. to open bottles, cut/hold objects
- Oral piercings
And believe it or not, the use of smart phones and accidentally dropping them onto the face makes this list too!
What should I do if I or my child have sustained a dental injury?
Injury to baby teeth
If a baby tooth is knocked out, it should not be put back in place as this has the risk of causing damage to the adult tooth.
Steps to take:
- If in the case of serious injury, seek medical help if needed
- Rinse the child’s mouth with water and apply an ice-pack to reduce any swelling
- Seek dental care immediately
A dentist will decide the next steps following an injury to a baby tooth. Treatment may range from leaving the tooth as is, smoothing over any rough edges or taking the tooth out. Intruded baby teeth (pushed upwards into the gums) generally re-erupt into their normal position in time. If a tooth has been knocked and is loose, it may be left in place. However, if it is interfering with the bite or there is a risk of it becoming a choking hazard then it may be removed.
Injury to adult teeth
If an adult tooth is knocked out, the chance of survival is greatest if the tooth is put back in the socket within 30 minutes to 1 hour.
In an ideal situation, you should:
- Locate the tooth, handling it by the crown (white part) not the root
- Rinse any debris off with cold water
- Place the tooth back into the socket, ensuring it is facing the right way
- Gently bite down on a cloth or tissue to keep the tooth in place
- Seek dental care immediately
If, for some reason, the tooth is not able to be put back into place then it should be stored in either milk, saline solution or saliva (either holding the tooth inside their cheek – while taking care not to swallow it – or by collecting saliva in a cup). DO NOT PLACE THE TOOTH IN WATER. The longer the tooth remains out of the socket, the less chance it has of survival.
How to prevent dental injuries
- Mouthguards: A mouthguard is essential when playing contact sports as it offers protection for the teeth, lips and jaw. The best type of mouthguard is one that is custom fitted by a dentist and these offer much better protection compared to over-the-counter or boil-and-bite mouthguards.
- Protruded front teeth: seek advice from your dental practitioner about options to minimise the risk of damage to your front teeth. Traditional braces are often the best mode of treatment.
- Avoiding/minimising risk-taking behaviours, reducing exposure to dangerous environments such as unsafe footpaths or obstructions
- Avoid using teeth as a tool
- Proper motor vehicle safety: seat belts, child restraints, properly fitted bicycle helmets
Information taken from:
DiAngelis, A., Andreasen, J., Ebeleseder, K., Kenny, D., Trope, M., & Sigurdsson, A. et al. (2012). International Association of Dental Traumatology guidelines for the management of traumatic dental injuries: 1. Fractures and luxations of permanent teeth. Dental Traumatology, 28(1), 2-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-9657.2011.01103.x