Taking it on the Chin: Quick Treatment Can Save Damaged Teeth
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 8, 2000 (Atlanta) -- According to the National Institute of Dental
Research (NIDR), one in 10 athletes -- including weekend types -- will get
whacked in the face or mouth at some point. To put this in perspective, in a
basketball game with the typical 10 players, one of them will likely suffer a
tooth-jarring injury. Too often, that injury will be a broken, loosened or
knocked-out tooth. While many oral injuries occur in violent sports like
football, boxing, and hockey, an alarmingly high percentage of teeth get
knocked out during bike riding, baseball, soccer, volleyball, and
Writing in the January issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine,
William O. Roberts, MD, says that tooth injuries can be divided into three
categories: 1) fracture, which can be a broken or chipped tooth; 2) luxation,
or displaced tooth; and 3) avulsion, or knocked-out tooth. Roberts is a family
physician at Minnesota Health Family Physicians in White Bear Lake, Minn.
With a fracture, Roberts recommends gently biting into a towel or gauze to
help control the bleeding. "Tooth fragments should be handled on their
enamel surfaces, saved, and sent with the athlete to the dental office," he
For a displaced tooth, Roberts recommends quick dental care because a tooth
out of place can interfere with and harm surrounding teeth. Roberts tells WebMD
that the victim can try to move the tooth back into place. "If the
procedure is too difficult or too painful, the tooth should be left as is for
the dentist to reposition," he says.
Knocked-out teeth should be held by the crown to avoid further damage to the
root and then gently teased back into the socket and held in place until the
patient can reach the dental office. If a knocked-out tooth can't be placed
back into its socket, Roberts says it should be stored in a moist environment
and immediately sent to the dentist. The best results are obtained by
reimplanting the tooth within 30 minutes; after 2 hours, the chances of saving
the tooth are slim.
There are special solutions on the market such as Save-a-Tooth -- which cost
around $15 -- designed for sideline medical kits. Other excellent possibilities
for storage include cold milk, cold normal saline solution, saline-soaked gauze
on ice, or in the athlete's cheek.
The best solution, according to Roberts as well as the American Dental
Association, the NIDR, and virtually every other dental authority, is for
athletes to wear mouthpieces. A properly fitted mouthguard relieves the stress
concentrated on the front teeth by absorbing and dispersing some of the shock
energy throughout the mouth.
But not everyone who should be is using them. A study by NIDR found that
while 72% of youths playing football wear mouthguards, the numbers drop
significantly in other sports. Less than 10% of youths wear mouthguards while
playing soccer, softball, and baseball. The fact that many mouth injuries occur
in non-contact sports has led dentists to recommend wearing a mouth protector
during any activity in which physical contact might take place.