Common Sports-Related Injuries Part 1
Sports-related injuries make up 40% of all dental injuries in the U.S and nearly 80% of dental injuries affect at least one of the front teeth. The injuries also occur more frequently in fast-paced and high-speed impacts. This article will address common sports-related dental injuries and part 2 will cover ways to help prevent these injuries from happening.
Symptoms from sports-related dental injuries can vary depending on the location of the injury. The damage to a tooth or teeth can cause cosmetic and aesthetic problems but athletes can also experience bleeding, swelling, and bruising.
The top part of the tooth is the crown which is above the gumline. The whole lower half of the tooth is called the root which is located below the gumline. The hard outer layer of the crown is covered in enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body. Even harder than bone! The layer below the enamel is called the dentin followed by the soft tissue known as the pulp. The pulp is where the tooth’s nerve and blood vessels are located. The soft covering of the root is called cementum.
Frequently, athletes will fall, get elbowed, or struck by a ball, bat, or puck. This will cause one or more of the teeth to become chipped. A chipped tooth is when the outer layer of the enamel breaks off and exposes the layers inside the tooth. Symptoms of a chipped tooth may include: jagged edges, irritation of the tongue (due to the jagged edges), irritated gum tissue near the tooth that is chipped, and/or pain from pressure. A dentist will need to evaluate the tooth with the help of x-rays to determine the course of treatment. A small chip may only require the dentist to smooth the jagged edge or place a small filling. If a larger chip occurs, it may require a larger filling, an onlay, or full-coverage crown. If the “chip” is large enough and exposes the nerve of the tooth, this may require a root canal and crown.
Crack or Fracture
A tooth can have small cracks running across the surface that are considered normal which are referred to by dental professionals as craze lines. These small cracks appear over time and typically only affect the outer layer (enamel) of the tooth. Typically, craze lines will cause no pain and are primarily a cosmetic issue. If a tooth cracks or splits from the top part of the tooth and runs downward, this is the true definition of a cracked tooth. Symptoms may include: sharp pain when biting, sensitivity when chewing, hot and cold sensitivity, or pain that comes and goes.
Because a cracked tooth isn’t always visible with the naked eye, it’s important to see a dentist quickly if an injury to the mouth or face occurs while playing sports. Unlike tooth decay, cracks are less likely to be diagnosed with x-rays. A dentist can test the tooth and use magnifying lenses to help identify a crack. On occasion, a special dye or light is used to help illuminate the crack. Also, a dental explorer may be used to tactilely feel the surface of the tooth. The extent and location of the crack found by the dentist will help determine the prognosis of the tooth. It’s important to remember that the biggest risk with large tooth fractures and chips is damage to the nerve and blood supply and of course infection.
Sports like hockey are often associated with dental injuries such as knocked-out teeth. However, some injuries can actually cause the tooth (or teeth) to be pushed back into the jawbone. This type of injury is called intrusion. Intrusion causes severe damage to all the ligaments around the teeth and disrupts the nerve and blood supply of the pulp. This can happen to athletes of all ages and the healing process of tooth trauma can keep the players off the field or court for extended periods of time.
Just like a bodily bruise, trauma or injury to the tooth or mouth can occur because an athlete has been hit and will cause a bruised tooth. Unlike a bruise on the skin which can vary in different colors, a bruised tooth sticks to being pink or grey. The American Dental Association’s website states that a pink tooth could mean that the tooth is striving to survive whereas the grey means that the tooth is most likely dead.
While waiting for a tooth to heal and a dentist to determine the best treatment solution, it’s important to take pain relievers as inflammation from an oral injury can be very painful. Medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen is often enough to treat the swelling and aches. Treatment for a bruised tooth may not happen immediately. Tooth trauma healing time can vary.
One of the most traumatic tooth-related injuries is a knocked-out tooth. 5 million teeth are knocked-out each year in sports activities and cost nearly 500 million to replace. However, it’s good to know if this happens it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s lost for good. Proper emergency action can save a tooth so that it may be replanted successfully. On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that a knocked-out tooth begins to die within 15 minutes.
To save a knocked-out tooth, it is important to follow these steps:
- Pick up and hold the tooth by the crown – NOT the root.
- If the tooth is dirty, gently rinse with water. Do NOT use soap or chemicals. Do NOT scrub or dry the tooth.
- Keep the tooth moist and if possible reposition the tooth in the socket immediately. If unable to reposition the tooth in the socket, it can be placed in cheek, under the tongue, or in a cup of milk.
- Visit the dentist as soon as possible.
Once the tooth is placed back into the socket, a dentist will place a splint to keep the tooth stable for the course of the healing time. Typically, the root will reattach firmly to the bone in 3-4 weeks. If the bone around the tooth is fractured, healing time may take up to 8 weeks.
In conclusion, it’s clear to see that there are many different types of sports-related dental injuries. Unfortunately, they happen often. Stay-tuned for Part 2 to find out how you can help prevent these injuries from happening to you and your loved ones.
PHOTOS: Shutterstock royalty free images