Doctor looking at X-ray

April really is National Facial Protection month. You may not be aware of this, but every year emergency rooms require the services of dental specialists to help treat children who have suffered everything from broken or knocked out teeth to broken jaws or other facial injuries suffered while playing.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Policy on Prevention of Sports-related Orofacial  Injuries, sports accidents reportedly account for 10 to 39% of all dental injuries in children and are most often caused by direct hits with a hard object, such as a puck or ball, and player-to-player contact. Whether or not your children are engaged in organized sports, they can still sustain serious facial injuries just by playing outside – especially if they’re not wearing the proper protection during spirited activities.

Tips to Prevent Facial Injuries

The most important first step in preventing injuries is to be aware of them and when they’re most likely to occur. Facial injuries can happen when children play contact sports. In dental terms, this means any activity where your child’s face can come in contact with something hard – the ground, a baseball, soccer ball, skateboard, pavement, BMX hill, and more.

Most parents who don’t insist that their children wear mouth guards when participating in these activities simply don’t realize the potential for damage. Pay attention to the activities your child is engaged in and assess the situation realistically. Insist that your child takes a few precautions when appropriate. Being more aware of your child’s activities will prevent them from being injured and prevent the chances of going through corrective facial surgery.

Simple Sports Safety Precautions

blue mouth guard

Well-fitting Helmet

Concussions and other serious head injuries can be prevented when children wear helmets, due to the fact that the helmet absorbs much of the shock of impact and adds an extra layer of protection to the brain.

Protective eye-wear

Eyes are particularly vulnerable when children are playing sports. Everything from airborne dirt to out-of-control cleats can cause permanent damage.

Face Shield

These are clear acrylic shields that attach to ball caps or mount over the head to protect children’s faces from broken noses and other injuries that can be caused by racquetballs, hockey pucks, and other flying implements.

Mouth Guard

Mouth guards help protect the lips, gums, and teeth during any sporting event. Should a child be hit in the face with a careless elbow or suddenly hit the ground, the mouth guard helps to hold teeth in place and works to prevent injury to the soft tissues inside the mouth.

Mouth guards are particularly important for children wearing braces to protect lips and gums from potentially permanent damage.Custom mouth guards can be made that will hold teeth in place during a hit, enable children to speak normally, and breathe without difficulty.

And don’t forget to watch out for yourself. Parents sitting along the sidelines or in the stands can be just as vulnerable to stray balls or other flying dangers if they don’t keep their eyes open. Missteps on the bleachers can cause serious injury too.

Consequences of Injury

Dental x-ray of fractured teeth

There are a number of injuries that can occur without proper protection, but you can potentially minimize the damage by knowing a few key first aid tips. When teeth have been broken or fractured, try to find the missing pieces and store them in water or milk to keep them moist. If you can get to the dentist within 24 hours, he or she may be able to reattach the broken pieces with no long-term damage. The dentist can also, of course, provide analgesics for pain. For displaced teeth, you’ll want to see a dentist immediately. If the tooth is hanging down out of its socket, try to re-position it until you can get to the dentist.

If the tooth is completely knocked out, it’s even more important that you see a dentist immediately. If you can treat it within 5-10 minutes, the chances of saving the tooth are much higher. Take precautions when handling the tooth itself. Hold it by the crown only (the wide top part, not the roots), rinse it off (again taking care not to touch or rub the roots), and put the tooth back in its socket. Cover the tooth with gauze or tissue and bite down on the space to stabilize it while you make your way to the dentist’s office. As done with fragments, you can also store the tooth in cold milk or your own saliva as a last resort.

Most importantly, do not let the tooth dry out. If it is properly cared for and implanted within 24 hours, the tooth can often be saved. For cuts inside the mouth, gently rinse the mouth out with cold water and bite on some gauze or apply pressure to stop the bleeding while heading to the closest emergency room for treatment.

While the U-shaped lower jaw suffers the majority of common injuries, damage to the upper jaw can cause some visible facial distortions. If everything fits together properly after the injury when the mouth is closed, apply ice and take over the counter pain relievers to control pain. Since chin and jaw procedures can be trickier, stick to soft foods for the night and get to the dentist if there’s been no improvement within 24 hours.

If the teeth don’t fit together correctly after the injury, get to the emergency room as quickly as you can. You can try to gently align the jaws and immobilize them by wrapping a cloth bandage under the chin and over the head. Again, apply ice to control swelling until seen by a doctor.

Many individuals won’t take the proper precautions to prevent injury until something has happened to them, but being prepared with some basic first aid tips can help reduce the damage. Prevent against the suffering in the first place by taking a few easy steps and help set an example for others.

For more information about first aid tips and a convenient first aid reference card for your wallet, visit http://www.aaoms.org/media/april-is-national-facial-protection-month/.