Dental injuries are nothing new in sports, but luckily, we’re coming up with more and more ways on how to prevent them altogether. From rugged football mouth guards to specialized helmets, athletes are now better equipped to prevent dental and facial injuries, or at least minimize their severity when they occur.
However, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of dental injuries in sports, especially in high-contact sports like football, basketball, and martial arts. If they do happen, knowing what to do can mean the difference between permanent tooth damage and saving your teeth.
Here are some of the most common dental injuries in sports and what to do if they happen to you:
Cracked or fractured teeth are often a result of a significant impact on the face, be it from a blow from an opponent or a ball. Cracks that appear longitudinal (go across the tooth) may be superficial cracks in the enamel, which do not signify a high risk for the cracked tooth. Cracks that begin at the crown and go downward, on the other hand, signify a truly cracked tooth.
Along with the visible crack on the tooth, an athlete may also experience symptoms such as sharp pain when biting down, pain while eating or drinking, and loss of the outer enamel. It is also important to note that cracks in the tooth aren’t always visible to the naked eye. So if you are experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms, it’s best to go to a dentist right away.
In some sports injuries, the tooth gets completely lodged out of the jaw with a powerful blow to the face. What you do next after getting your teeth knocked out is imperative to restoring it. If this happens, here are the next steps to take:
- Find the tooth and hold it by the crown (do not touch the fleshy part)
- Rinse it in water if it’s dirty
- Put it back in your gums
- Bite on a clean piece of cloth to hold the tooth in place
- Go to the dentist immediately or an emergency dental clinic
If you cannot put the tooth back into its original position, put it in milk and go to the dentist. If you cannot find your tooth, the dentist will recommend a denture, bridge, or implant to replace it.
Quite the opposite of tooth loss, tooth intrusion is when the teeth get driven into the jawbone on impact. Although more common for baby teeth, this type of injury can happen at any age.
This injury can result in other complications such as necrosis of the tooth pulp, root resorption, and ankylosis (the fusion of the tooth into the alveolar bone). Hence, addressing the problem right away is of the essence.
If tooth intrusion happens to you, the next best steps are:
- Rinse your mouth with cold water
- Reduce swelling with ice packs or cold compresses
- Take a pain reliever, if needed
- Go to an emergency dental clinic
Blows at certain angles can result in fractured roots, which refers to the crack beginning at the root of the tooth instead of the tooth itself. Often, root fractures cannot be seen since they occur underneath the visible part of the tooth. That said, an athlete with this type of injury may only know of it when an infection starts.
If you suspect a root fracture after sustaining a blow to the face, here’s what you should do:
- Place a cold compress on the affected area
- Take a pain reliever, if needed
- Go to the dentist as soon as possible to determine if you have a fracture or not
How to prevent sports-related dental injuries
If you play contact sports, here are some of the best tips to avoid dental injuries:
- Wear a mouthguard. There are different categories you can choose from, including stock mouthguards, boil and bite mouthguards, and customized mouthguards.
- Wear a helmet. Aside from preventing head injuries, a helmet with a face shield or mouthguard also protects your mouth from impact.
- Wear a face cage. This piece of headgear is essential for certain positions in sports, such as the hockey goalie and umpire.
If a dental injury still manages to occur, don’t wait until the end of the game to address it. Inform your coach and go to the dentist right away if the injury warrants an emergency visit.
Few things are worse for an athlete than getting injured on a game, especially if it’s something as painful as a dental injury. Hence, it is crucial for athletes to be proactive in preventing dental injuries, as well as to know what to do in case they happen.