With millions of school athletes headed back to playing fields across the country, protecting teeth from loss and damage should be on the minds of parents, coaches, teachers and players too.
Ray Padilla spends plenty of time thinking about sports-related dental injuries.
He’s the team dentist for the Los Angeles Galaxy Major League Soccer team, for athletes at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is a consulting dentist for U.S. national and Olympic soccer teams.
A featured speaker at the recent annual meeting of the California Dental Association, Padilla shared his expertise with other dentists, and DrBicuspid.com assistant editor Therese Pablos, who caught up with him for an interview.
More than 80 percent of dental injuries involve the top front four teeth, Padilla noted. Properly-fitting mouth guards offer effective protection, research has shown. The American Dental Association recommends their use for at least 29 different sports, from acrobatics to wrestling.
According to Padilla, children should start wearing mouth guards at age 11, when sports start becoming more intense. However, he told Pablos, he has his own children start wearing the protective devices at age 5 so they become accustomed to them.
Even when precautions are taken, however, injuries may occur, Padilla said.
If a permanent tooth is avulsed – knocked out – action must be taken right away to save it, experts advise.
“If the tooth has been out of the mouth for more than five minutes, it will never be the same again,” Padilla told Pablos.
The database, which offers specific guidance for different types of trauma, advises that avulsed primary (baby) teeth should not be replanted. In cases where permanent teeth are knocked out, the following steps are recommended:
- Keep the patient calm.
- Find the tooth and pick it up by the crown (the white part). Avoid touching the root.
- If the tooth is dirty, wash it briefly (10 seconds) under cold running water and reposition it. Try to encourage the patient or a parent to replant the tooth. Bite on a handkerchief to hold it in position.
- If this is not possible, place the tooth in a suitable storage medium, e.g. a glass of milk or a special storage media for avulsed teeth if available.
- The tooth can also be transported in the mouth, keeping it between the molars and the inside of the cheek. If the patient is very young, he/she could swallow the tooth- therefore it is advisable to get the patient to spit in a container and place the tooth in it. Avoid storage in water!
- Seek emergency dental treatment immediately.
Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new guidelines for handling dental trauma in primary care settings in the journal Pediatrics. Unless the child has other injuries, it is best for the parent or guardian to take him or her straight to a dentist, according to the guidelines’ lead author, Martha Ann Keels, chief of pediatric dentistry at Duke University Children’s Hospital & Health Center.
“The success of healing is time dependent in many trauma cases – so you want to have a dental home and not rely on the local Emergency Department,” Keels told Reuters Health in an article offering a useful summary of the guidelines for parents.
Maybe now is a good time to remind readers about the best ways of preventing dental injures, and coping with them if they occur.
- Guarding the Precious Smile: Incidence and Prevention of Injury in Sports: A Review, published last year in the Journal of International Oral Health, offers a detailed look at literature examining orofacial injuries sustained during participation in sports and the role of mouth guards in preventing such injuries.
- Prevention is The Best Medicine: Sports Safety Guidelines Prevention is the Best Medicine: Sports Safety Guidelines, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. provides a broad range of parent-friendly tips for injury prevention in sports.
- Play It Safe: Prevent Facial Injuries with Simple Sports Safety Precautions, from the American Dental Association highlights the importance of facial protection.
- The Academy for Sports Dentistry, founded in 1983, serves as a forum for dentists, physicians, trainers, coaches, dental technicians, and educators. The organization’s website offers position statements on topics related to oral health and sports safety. The group can also help you find a team dentist in your community.
These guidelines, developed by the International Association of Dental Traumatology and endorsed in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, deal specifically with the management of injuries to the primary (baby) teeth.