What are mouth and dental injuries? — Mouth and dental injuries happen when the lips, tongue, throat, or teeth get hurt during an accident or a fight (figure 1). Teeth can break, fall out, become loose, and cause pain.
How common are mouth and dental injuries in children? — Very common. Close to half of all children hurt their mouths or teeth at some point. In most cases, children get better without problems. But mouth and tooth injuries can be serious. It’s important to know when to see the doctor.
What causes mouth and dental injuries in children? — The most common ways that children get mouth injuries are:
Tripping or getting pushed with something in their mouth
Should I take my child to see a doctor or dentist? — Call your doctor or dentist if:
The child is in a lot of pain or the area hurts when touched
The injured area is bothered by heat or cold
A tooth is broken, loose, or missing after the injury
There is a large cut in the mouth or on the face, or the area bleeds for more than 10 minutes, even with pressure on it
The child’s jaw hurts when he or she opens or closes the mouth
The child has trouble swallowing or breathing
An object is stuck on the tongue, cheek, or roof of the mouth, or in the throat
Something might have pierced the back of the throat
The child is weak or numb, is slurring his or her words, or can’t see well
There are signs of infection, such as fever, redness, or pain that gets worse over time
Is there anything I can do on my own to help my child after a mouth or dental injury? — Yes. You can:
Press on the area with a clean cloth or gauze, if there is bleeding. Hold the pressure for 10 minutes.
Give your child pain medicine, such as ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol)
What tests should my child have? — Your doctor or dentist will decide which tests your child should have, based on his or her symptoms and individual situation. Often all the doctor or dentist needs to do is examine the child and ask how the injury happened. In some cases, an X-ray or other imaging test might be needed to check for broken bones, tooth damage, or swallowed teeth.
Will my child need treatment for a tooth injury? — That depends on where the injury is, how severe it is, and how old your child is. Your child might not need any treatment. For tooth injuries, treatment depends on whether the injury is in a baby tooth or an adult tooth.
Adult teeth usually start to come in after age 6 or 7. They look different than baby teeth. If you and your child’s doctor are not sure which type of tooth is hurt, an X-ray can help.
How are injuries to baby teeth treated? — That depends on the type of injury. The dentist might repair the tooth, remove it, or do nothing. If a baby tooth is removed or falls out, the adult tooth usually grows in just fine.
How are injuries to adult teeth treated in children? — That depends on the type of injury:
If 1 of your child’s adult teeth is loose, the dentist might push it back in place. To hold it there while it heals, he or she might use stitches or a splint.
If 1 of your child’s adult teeth breaks, the dentist might:
Put broken pieces back on (make sure to save any pieces you find by putting them in tap water)
Fix the tooth with a material that looks like teeth
If 1 of your child’s adult teeth falls out, act fast. You should put the tooth back in its socket (the hole in the gums) as soon as possible. The tooth is most likely to survive if it goes back in within 15 minutes. If you must wait to put the tooth back in, put the tooth in cold milk. Then, get the tooth in its socket within an hour.
Here are some tips for putting a tooth back in its socket:
Hold it on the end that normally sticks out
Gently rinse the tooth socket with tap water
Put the tooth back in its socket with your fingers
Have the child bite on a towel to hold the tooth in place
Get to a dentist right away
How are injuries to other parts of the mouth treated in children? — That depends on where the injury is, what kind of injury it is, and how bad it is. Your child might not need any treatment. In some cases, your child might need:
Stitches to fix a cut on the tongue or lips
Surgery, if your child pierces the back of his or her throat with a pencil, toothbrush, lollipop, straw, or other object. This can happen if your child falls with something in his or her mouth.
Antibiotics to prevent or treat some infections
A tetanus shot to prevent serious disease
Can mouth and dental injuries be prevented in children? — Your child can reduce his or her chances of getting mouth or dental injuries by:
Wearing a mouth guard during sports. The best type of mouth guard is made by a dentist just for your child.
Sitting while eating. This is most important when eating something on a stick or with a straw.
Putting only food and drinks in his or her mouth
Not eating in the car