Most dental office are continuing to provide emergency dental care during COVID-19 but it’s still best to avoid dental injuries to help you and your family stay safe. Most dental injuries are preventable and with some care and planning, you can avoid dental injuries.
How can I prevent dental injuries?
Restrictions on who can access dental care makes avoiding dental injuries more important than ever. Taking extra precautions to protect your teeth during this crisis can help ensure that you will not have to make emergency calls to your dentist.
Here are some simple ways to avoid dental injuries during COVID-19:
1. Mouth guards
Sports injuries are one of the most common causes of dental trauma. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends wearing mouth guards during any type of sports or recreational activities that might have a risk of injury to the face or mouth.1 Mouth guards help cushion the teeth and minimize the risk of broken teeth as well as injuries to the lips, tongue, face, and jaw.
Mouth guards are inexpensive and come in three forms. The most common are the pre-formed ready-to-wear types sold at drugstores. Another type of mouth guard that you can buy over the counter is the boil and bite. These fit better than the pre-formed ones and supply better protection. The best protection comes from custom-made mouth guards made by a dentist. Dentists can create these for each individual patient but they are more expensive than the over-the-counter types.
2. Fall prevention
Preventing falls lowers your chances of many injuries, especially dental ones. Because top teeth tend to protrude, they are often the site of the worst damage from falls. Follow these guidelines to prevent dental injuries caused by falls.
- Use sturdy step ladders
- Clean up clutter
- Wear shoes with non-slip soles
- Install grab bars in bathrooms
- Ensure adequate lighting
- Be careful and think ahead
- Watch toddlers carefully
3. Seat belts
Wearing seat belts at all times when driving or riding in a car is a proven way to prevent injuries should an accident occur. Proper child car seats protect children until they are large enough to use seat belts.
Riding bicycles, skateboards, scooters, motorbikes, motorcycles, and other recreational vehicles account for many head and facial injuries, including injuries to the teeth and mouth. Wearing helmets when using these vehicles can help ensure that you are protected from serious injuries.
According to the nonprofit safety organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, head injuries related to bikes, scooters, skates, and skateboards, make up approximately 11% of emergency room visits.2
What are the most common dental injuries?
Injuries to the teeth and soft tissues of the mouth, such as the tongue, cheeks, and gums, occur in many different situations. Most dental injuries happen to children and teenagers, but these injuries also happen to adults. Common causes of dental injuries include:
- Sports mishaps
- Car and motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle wrecks
- Foreign objects in the mouth
- Teeth grinding, particularly at night, can not only cause teeth to hurt or feel loose but also can cause the enamel to break or chip
- Dental appliances like braces, retainers, sleep apnea devices, and partials held in place by wires can all cause injuries to the cheeks, lips, and your tongue
- Lip, tongue, and cheek piercings
If an injury involves the soft tissues of the mouth and a loose flap of tissue or open wound is felt, you may need stitches.
Of particular concern are any injuries to the roof of your mouth, the back of your throat, or your tonsils. These can cause deeper injuries to the tissues of your throat, neck, or head. This type of injury is often seen when children fall with an object in their mouth, such as a popsicle stick or pencil.
Some dental injuries are minor and do not rise to the level of a true dental emergency. Small chips of the tooth enamel, minor bleeding that stops on its own, and even a tooth knocked slightly loose are not emergencies. These types of dental injuries can usually be treated at home. Often minor cuts and loosened teeth will heal with no treatment at all. Stopping bleeding using pressure and bandages, reducing pain with over-the-counter medications, and keeping the area clean will help healing and prevent infections.
The type and severity of the injury determines the needed treatment. The severity can range from chipped enamel to life threatening jaw and facial trauma.
When should I call the dentist or go to the ER?
Severe injuries might require a trip to the dentist or emergency room, even during COVID-19. Call your dentist’s office for instructions if any of these dental injuries occur:
- A tooth is knocked completely out (avulsed)
- A tooth is jammed into the gums and bone
- A jaw fracture or facial trauma that might cause a concussion
- A tooth is broken into the pulp (pink, bloody interior of tooth visible)
- A foreign object that pierces the roof of the mouth or near the throat
What should I do if a tooth is knocked out?
If a serious dental injury does occur during the COVID-19 pandemic, or any other time, and a tooth is knocked out, there are several important steps to take:
- Stay calm
- Find the tooth and pick it up by the crown (white part)
- Avoid touching the root
- Rinse the tooth gently under cool water
- Place the root back in the tooth hole
- Bite on a clean cloth to hold it in place
- Seek emergency care
If you cannot place the tooth back in its socket, put the tooth in a container of milk or saline solution. If the patient is old enough, the tooth can also be stored by keeping it between the teeth and the inside of the cheek. Younger patients might swallow the tooth using this method.
Ideally, getting the patient with an avulsed tooth to a dentist or ER within 30 minutes of the injury gives them the best chance of re-seating the tooth successfully.3 Your dentist or ER staff may need to take X-rays to see if any other injuries need treatment. When a traumatic injury causes a tooth to come out of its socket, there may also be damage to the jawbone, facial bones, eyes, throat, skull, or ears. A thorough examination by a medical or dental professional ensures that damage to other facial structures, in addition to the avulsed tooth, are treated appropriately including treating or ruling out a concussion.
What is considered a dental emergency during COVID-19?
The ADA has published a list of conditions that are considered dental emergencies and can be treated in a dental office during the pandemic.4
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Swelling inside and around the mouth with pain
- Pain from the teeth or jawbone
- Pain and swelling in the gums
- Follow-up treatments after dental surgery such as removing stitches or changing dressings
- A tooth broken or knocked completely out of its socket (avulsed)
- Denture adjustments if you are undergoing treatments for cancer
- Adjusting wires from braces that are injuring your cheeks, lips, or tongue
- Abnormal tissue or growths in the mouth that need to be biopsied
Dental injuries that cause uncontrolled bleeding, swelling, pain, or involve teeth that are broken or knocked out of the mouth are certainly injuries that need a dentist’s immediate attention.
Can dental injuries cause permanent damage?
Many dental injuries are easily treated and cause no permanent damage to the teeth or jaws. More serious injuries cause tooth loss, discoloration of the tooth, excessive sensitivity to temperatures, and the need for extensive restorations, such as crowns, implants, and bridges as well as root canal therapy.
Wounds to the face, cheeks, lips, tongue, and other soft tissue structures may require stitches and leave permanent scars. Injuries to the tongue might affect speech and the ability to swallow. Some injuries require a tetanus shot.
Serious injuries to the face, teeth, and soft tissues can affect a person for many years and damage their self-esteem.
Does insurance pay for dental injuries?
Injuries to the teeth, face, and jaws are normally covered by either your dental insurance, medical insurance, or both.
If you have accident insurance and your teeth are injured in a car wreck, fall, or other type of accident, this supplemental insurance can provide coverage in addition to dental or medical plans. You can use accident insurance benefits to help pay for deductibles, co-pays, ER and ambulance charges, medical devices such as wheelchairs and crutches, physical therapy and other rehabilitation services, and to use for daily expenses while you recuperate.
Staying injury-free during COVID-19
Preventing and avoiding dental injuries is always important, but it is especially important during this COVID-19 crisis. Emergency rooms and dental offices in some areas may be limiting the types of services they provide.
Many dental injuries are preventable. Wearing mouth guards and helmets during sports and recreational activities, wearing seat belts, using simple fall prevention measures, and exercising common sense by thinking ahead and slowing down are easy ways to avoid dental injuries.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to take care of your teeth, eat right, and exercise to maintain good overall health. Avoiding dental injuries is one way you can ensure the safety of yourself and your family.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.