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How to prevent and treat dental injuries

Your teeth are precious. Keep them safe during sports by wearing a mouthguard, and learn what to do in an emergency. Dentist Dr William Ha shares some tips.

Portrait of happy joyful beautiful little boy against the old textured blue wall

Roughly two out every 100 Australian children will have a reported dental trauma. The most common is injury to the upper front teeth, occurring without the use of a mouthguard.

Dental injuries range from fracturing of the teeth, to a change in position within the bone (including knocked out teeth), to fractures of the jaw bone, as well as lacerations and tears to the lips and gums. These injuries can be painful and can take substantial time and cost to treat.

Yes, you should wear a mouthguard

To protect your teeth, mouthguards should be worn when playing sports, including during training. When a mouthguard is not worn, the likelihood of fracturing or having the tooth leave the mouth is doubled.

There are two main types of mouthguards:

  • Custom-fitted mouthguards made by dental professionals
  • Over-the-counter (boil and bite) mouthguards, which are not custom fit

Sports Medicine Australia and the Australian Dental Association recommend custom-fitted mouthguards. These mouthguards are more comfortable and provide sufficient and consistent thickness (4 mm) around the teeth. Remember, the cost of an injury to the mouth far exceeds the cost of a custom-fitted mouthguard.

Most people have the top front teeth in front of the lower front teeth, and hence mouthguards are worn on the top to protect the top teeth. People who have the lower front teeth in front of the top front teeth (an ‘underbite’) can sometimes benefit from a mouthguard worn on the bottom teeth instead of the top.

If you have braces, a new mouthguard can be made with extra spacing around the braces so that the mouthguard can fit while braces are in place.

How to care for your mouthguard

Keep your mouthguards clean and in good condition with these simple steps.

  • Rinse mouthguards under water after each use and leave in a well-ventilated plastic box. If it becomes smelly, the mouthguard can be submerged in mouthwash or vinegar to disinfect the mouthguard.
  • Avoid heat as that will warp the mouthguard. That means avoid warm water, direct sunlight or leaving the mouthguard in hot cars.
  • Replace mouthguards that no longer fit or are damaged. New mouthguards are likely to be needed every year in growing children as the shape of their jaw is changing.
  • If a mouthguard is uncomfortable, talk to your dentist as adjustments are possible. Custom mouthguards have been shown to be comfortable and hence are more likely to be worn.
  • It takes time to become comfortable with mouthguards. Try wearing it at home before wearing it training and at sporting events.

Dental injury first aid

If a dental injury does occur, take action immediately:

  • Contact your dentist as soon as possible.
  • If a tooth is knocked out, find the tooth and hold it by the crown but not the root.
  • If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk but don’t scrub or soak it.
  • Place it back into its socket. Biting on a clean cloth can help it stay in place.
  • If it cannot be replanted, transport it in milk or saliva or wrap it in clingwrap and see your dentist as soon as possible.
  • Consult medical help ASAP if the injury resulted in changes in vision, changes in consciousness or memory, fluid leaking from the nose or ear, or changes in movements of the jaw or open wounds.

Get tooth savvy

The free app ToothSOS (created by the International Association of Dental Traumatology) provides further information on dental injury and mouthguards. For useful learning purposes, it should be read in advance rather than waiting for an injury.

ToothSOS is available for free on iOS and Android.

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