As an orthodontist, one of the most rewarding things I do is removing the braces from the teeth of my young patients. Their teeth are nicely aligned, they can look forward to much better dental health and function. And seeing the beautiful smiles on the faces of patients is what it is all about.
Most of my patients come in for routine adjustments, but sometimes I have to treat teeth that have been severely displaced because of an accident. While some accidents are entirely unpredictable, dental damage due to sports is fairly common.
Not too long ago a 12-year-old who had just completed comprehensive orthodontic treatment was back in my office. A baseball took a bad bounce in the infield during a game, whacking the boy in the mouth and knocking out his front teeth. He was rushed to a pediatric dentist, who immediately put the teeth back in place and stabilized them with a light wire.
After 10 days of healing from the procedure he was sent to me to realign his upper and lower front teeth.
He had to wear braces for another six months to repair the damage from that one errant baseball.
That pain, inconvenience and cost could have been avoided if my young patient had been wearing a properly fitted mouth guard.
This is National Facial Protection Month, and mouth guards are one of the least expensive pieces of protective equipment available. Over-the-counter versions cost as little as $5. Custom-fitted mouth guards offer better fit and function. But any protection is better than none at all.
Not only do mouth guards save teeth and protect jaws from breaks, they may also protect against neck injuries and central nervous system injuries by decreasing the force transmitted through the jaw to the base of the skull.
A 2009 survey of parents conducted by the American Association of Orthodontists found only about a third of young athletes wore mouth guards, even though one-fourth of the parents surveyed said their child had sustained an injury during an organized sport that resulted in a trip to the emergency room. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that in 2006, for those under age 15, the largest percentage of injuries are associated with the head, face, mouth or ears.
Consistent use of other types of protective equipment is also important. Helmets save lives and prevent head injuries. They should be worn for activities such as bicycling, skateboarding, inline skating — any activity that puts the head at risk.
Face guards, devices made of plastic or metal that attach to baseball helmets, help to prevent facial injuries as well.
If despite all your precautions you do suffer a broken or knocked out tooth, you can often save it with prompt and careful action.
• Clean the injured area and apply ice.
• Save the tip of the tooth (for possible reattachment) and call your dentist right away.
Knocked out tooth
• Locate the tooth; hold it by the crown (the wide part, not the pointed end/root).
• Do not rub or touch the root!
• Rinse the tooth only if needed to remove debris.
• Put the tooth back in its socket; cover with gauze or tissue and bite down to stabilize it. Or you can briefly store the tooth in cold milk or salt water, or between the cheek and gum.
• Do not let the tooth dry out.
• See your dentist immediately.
Barbara Marston Perez, DMD, practices at Perez Orthodontics in Tampa. She is offering free custom-fitted mouth guards to youngsters in South Tampa at her office at 1906 S MacDill Ave. Call (813) 374-2007 for an appointment. For more information, visit perezorthodontics.com.