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SMILE SAFE THIS SPRING

Protect your teeth and know your options when accidents happen

Published: Friday, March 28, 2014 11:18 a.m. CST

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all hopeful this brutal winter is behind us! As the temperatures begin to normalize, everyone is eager to get outside and enjoy the spring.  This means outdoor fun for adults and kids. Whether it’s just starting up the backyard grill, playing some basketball with friends, or getting the kids out to soccer practice, we all want to do something active outside. I think it’s important to discuss some precautions we can take to protect our teeth this year!

If you or your child play a contact sport, you need to understand damaging your teeth is a lot easier than you think. Sometimes, all it takes is a stray elbow while playing basketball or a foot to the face while playing soccer. Accidents do happen.

Consider wearing a sports mouth guard while playing. Mouth guards are not just for boxing or football anymore. Although not required, you’ll find many NBA players using mouth guards regularly to help avoid injury. Ranging from inexpensive mouth guards that you mold yourself, to custom fit mouth guards made by fitness companies and fitted by your dentist, there is a menu of choices when it comes to protecting your teeth. By clenching into a mouth guard you not only protect your teeth from an errant hit, you also protect them from slamming into each other and chipping, or biting your tongue or lips (or worse, injuring your jaw joint).  So be smart about it! If you regularly play a contact sport, trust me: protecting your teeth from injury is worth the annoyance of wearing a mouth guard.

This leads to the next questions: If you do get injured playing a sport, what should you do? It really all depends on the type of injury.

Dental Emergencies Whenever one of our patients calls with a tooth-related emergency, we give them pretty straightforward advice. Anything with significant bleeding, pain or loss of consciousness definitely warrants a trip to the emergency room. The doctors there are experts at handling trauma to the face, and will stop any bleeding, place stitches, whatever it takes to get the situation under control. Unfortunately, the ER is usually not well-equipped to deal with tooth-specific emergencies. They’ll typically give you antibiotics and pain medication and tell you to see your dentist if you’ve chipped or cracked a tooth.

In such a situation, the chipped or cracked tooth may become very sensitive very quickly. This is because the nerve inside the tooth may have become exposed during the accident. Sometimes the treatment is as simple as bonding a composite resin filling material to rebuild the chipped area. Other times the trauma is so severe that the tooth will require root canal therapy to keep you out of pain and properly restore the tooth. In either case, the tooth often will have a good long-term prognosis if you see your dentist as soon as possible after the trauma.

My tooth is in my hand! If a tooth gets knocked out, there are certain steps you can take that will make saving that tooth a lot more predictable.

As soon as the tooth is knocked out, pick it up by the white part(the crown) and rinse the whole tooth lightly under cold running water to clean any dirt or contaminants. Then try to re-implant the tooth into the socket. Bite down lightly on a towel to hold the tooth in place, and go to see your dentist immediately. If for some reason you can’t get the tooth back in right away, again, clean the tooth with water, but then place it in a cup of milk right away. Again, go to see your dentist as soon as possible. The quicker the tooth is re-implanted the higher the chance that it will survive (we’re talking about a couple of hours, not a couple of days). The dentist will typically splint the tooth to the surrounding teeth using a flexible wire, prescribe appropriate medication and get you back in for follow ups. Root canal therapy will very likely be needed on the tooth to prevent any long term infection and to help properly restore it.

Spring is finally here, and we all want to get out there and enjoy it. But remember to be safe. Take the appropriate precautions and be prepared to deal with emergencies.

Saqib H. Mohajir DMD, FADIA Dr. Mohajir is a member of the American Dental Association, Illinois State Dental Society, Chicago Dental Society and is a Fellow of the American Dental Implant Association. He maintains a private practice in Lemont, Illinois.

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