If you have a child that participates in school or community sports, you probably know all too well that injuries to the teeth and mouth are common among athletes. It’s important to protect your child’s smile for both cosmetic and health reasons. This is especially true if they’re undergoing orthodontic treatment with braces! Here at Mountain West Dental Specialists, we’re committed to creating healthier smiles for kids in our community. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some common dental injuries athletes encounter and how you can help prevent them!
Common dental injuries
Before we get into some of the most common dental injuries we see, we want to emphasize that any traumatic injury involving a child’s mouth or teeth should be followed up with a visit to their pediatric dentist. Even injuries that appear mild to you need to be checked out by a qualified provider as the teeth could be affected in a way that can only be detected through a dental exam.
Chipped or fractured teeth
Chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. When a child chips a baby tooth, it can often be aesthetically restored. With fractures, we can try reattaching the broken piece or placing a tooth-colored filling in the affected area. However, if a significant portion of the tooth crown has broken off, an artificial crown or “cap” may be needed to restore the tooth. Injuries to the back teeth often include fractured cusps, cracked teeth, or a split tooth. Cracks that extend into the root might need root canal treatment and a full-coverage crown to restore function to the tooth. Split teeth are a more serious problem and may require extraction.
Some injuries to a child’s tooth can push it sideways into or out of the socket. In rare cases, a dislodged primary tooth can be repositioned. However, we typically do not recommend replanting a baby tooth as this may cause further or permanent damage to the underlying permanent tooth growing inside the bone.
Since their teeth are still growing, children between 7-12 may not need any root canal treatment if a tooth is dislodged. We can monitor their healing carefully and intervene immediately if necessary. Older children who experience a dislodged permanent tooth will usually require root canal treatment which should be started within a few days of the injury if possible.
Time is of the essence if your child’s tooth is knocked completely out of their mouth! If you still have the tooth, handle it carefully and avoid touching the root surface. If the tooth is dirty, you can give it a quick rinse with water but avoid soap or any other cleaning agent. Don’t scrape at or brush it.
The less time a tooth is out of the socket, the better chance we have of saving it. If you can place it back in the socket, Dr. Keaton or Dr. Allison Tomlin will evaluate it and check for any other dental or facial injuries. If you haven’t put it back in the socket yourself, they will clean it and replace it for you. Treatment will usually involve using a stabilizing splint for a few weeks. Depending on the stage of root development, we may start root canal treatment a week or two later.
A traumatic injury to a child’s tooth can result in a horizontal root fracture. The location of the fracture will determine the long-term health of the tooth. The closer the fracture is to the gum line, the poorer the long-term success rate will be. If a fracture is closer to the root tip, the chances for success are much better. Temporary stabilization with a splint is sometimes required for root fractures.
Our bodies contain several defense mechanisms to injury. Resorption is one of these, and occurs when your body begins to reject your tooth in response to the traumatic injury it has suffered. Having your child examined by a qualified pediatric dentist after an injury means the tooth can be examined or treated at regular intervals to ensure the surrounding tissue is continuing to heal and that no root resorption is occurring.
Preventing sports injuries through mouthguards
One of the easiest ways to prevent sports injuries is the consistent use of a mouthguard. These simple appliances come in regular and orthodontic models, both of which are affordable and easy to access. Along with the dental injuries discussed above, it only takes a small amount of pressure on braces to irritate the gums or cheeks. If your child wears braces and plays sports, it’s important to know which of these models would be best for their needs!
Regular mouthguards provide a good amount of protection, but they’re made from a thermoplastic material that heats up as it sits in the mouth. This molds the mouthguard to the teeth and brackets, and it can’t move with the teeth as they shift towards their new positions. This can actually work against what we’re trying to do by interfering with the straightening process! It can also lead to extra appointments or longer treatment times for some patients.
This is why we recommend an orthodontic mouthguard for our athletic patients. These models are designed specifically for orthodontic patients and fit comfortably over traditional braces. Instead of the thermoplastic material regular mouthguards use, orthodontic models work with a high-grade silicone that cushions the lips and prevents them from bumping against the teeth and braces.
What are the different types of mouthguards?
There are three types of mouthguards, all of which vary in cost, comfort, and protection levels. These include stock, mouth-formed, and custom-made mouthguards. We’ll outline each below!
Stock mouthguards are ready-made, so they won’t require a visit to the dentist or orthodontist. They can be found in most sporting goods stores, but they do come in a more limited range of sizes. Stock mouthguards also require the mouth to be shut to keep them in place. Since they’re not customized to the patient’s mouth, these models can be less effective than others.
This type of mouthguard softens when placed in hot water. Once it’s cooled down, it’s set in your child’s mouth, where the pressure of their bite further shapes it. This gives braces patients a more personalized option, but one that can still be purchased at many sports stores. We can help your child with a final molding if needed.
Custom mouthguards are available in most dental and orthodontic offices. They’re created using impressions of your child’s mouth, which allows us to provide the most accurate and comfortable fit possible. This option is a bit more costly and requires a visit to our office, but you can’t do better than the customized protection they offer your child’s teeth and gums!
Whatever mouthguard you choose for your child should fit in their mouth comfortably and securely. You’ll also want to ensure it’s easy to clean, has high-impact energy absorption, and will never restrict your child’s breathing in any way.
What about orthodontic emergencies?
While mouthguards offer active kids a great deal of protection, accidents can still happen. True orthodontic emergencies are rare, but they do occur from time to time. These include:
- any serious injury or trauma to the face, neck, mouth, teeth, or gums
- swelling, infection, or bleeding of the gums or mouth
- severe pain or discomfort in the teeth, mouth, face, or neck
If your child’s mouth takes a direct hit while playing sports, please let us know as soon as possible! We’ll set up an appointment for your child to be seen quickly by one of our dentists. If a visit to urgent care or the ER feels like your best option, don’t hesitate to go there first. Some parents worry that this can interrupt their child’s orthodontic process, but if yours is in braces, don’t worry! We can always pick up where we left off or adjust their treatment plan once the emergency has passed and things have settled down.
Protect your child’s smile with help from Mountain West Dental Specialists
No matter how tough your child is, even a minor dental injury can be upsetting! Wearing a mouthguard any time they’re on the field or court will help reduce the risk of these injuries occurring. Mountain West Dental Specialists love supporting athletics in our community and want to help your child continue playing the sports they love while maintaining a healthy smile! If you have any questions about how we can help protect your child’s teeth, get in touch any time and we’ll be happy to talk you through all the options.