How is dental trauma different from a dental emergency?

The word ‘trauma’ should say it all, an injury that is categorised as ‘dental trauma’ affects the teeth, the soft tissue of the mouth, and the jawbone in an obvious and generally very painful way.

Whereas toothache or abscesses are uncomfortable and can sometimes constitute an emergency, they are not the same as dental trauma, which can sometimes be life-threatening if accompanied by other damage to the head and face. The most common type of dental trauma is a broken or twisted tooth, which is often the result of some kind of heavy impact to the mouth, the worst kind of injuries will bleed quite heavily – though not dangerously so – and will take several months, if not years, of treatment to ultimate healing.

What kind of thing causes dental trauma?

There are thousands of different ways you could suffer a painful dental injury, from something as simple as a trip and fall to a car accident or pub fight. You might be surprised to learn that eating hard food is an easy way to damage your teeth extensively, a nut or boiled sweet can fracture the enamel surface and lead to more long-term problems, such as infection, but this kind of accident probably wouldn’t be described as ‘traumatic’, unless the pain was so excruciating it was impossible to be forgotten.

Lots of sportsmen and women are probably familiar with dental trauma to some extent, particularly those who participate in contact sports like rugby or boxing.

Even less physical games like hockey or football can result in injuries; it only takes a miss-placed elbow or a badly timed swing and you’ve got dental trauma on your hands. Most sports that have a ball or some kind of equipment –like a hockey stick – will require the players to wear gum shields, in case of sudden impact from the ball or other participants. Mouthguards are even mandatory in some sports, but they can’t always prevent any damage from occurring, especially if the blow is very heavy.

Car and bicycle accidents are another common cause of dental trauma, mainly because it’s the face that takes a lot of the impact when the vehicle comes to a sudden stop – either by riders going over the handlebars, or drivers hitting their head on the steering wheel as they slam on the brakes. Generally speaking, it’s the front teeth that suffer the most damage in these situations, simply due to the fact that they are placed over the lower jaw and are therefore more exposed.

If you suffer some type of accident, the damage is bound to be compounded if you already have dental issues affecting the structural integrity of your teeth, i.e. if several of your teeth are deteriorating due to decay, they are much more likely to break apart or move in their sockets than healthier teeth. So, although decay and cavities are not traumatic in and of themselves, they can contribute to more severe damage in the event of an injury.

Who might suffer from dental trauma?

Figures have shown that young children that are just learning to walk are most likely to experience dental trauma, and out of that group, boys are twice as likely over girls, but there’s really no way to predict who will damage their teeth and how.

Most adults will probably remember injuring themselves or chipping their teeth as young children, but the risk tends to diminish as we leave school/college and develop more co-ordination! Of course, there’s no accounting for injury among us or those who take part in very physical sports, in these cases, there is often a higher risk of dental trauma, taking into account the fact that the rest of their bodies are also in danger of injury.

How can my dentist diagnose dental trauma and tooth loss?

Extreme cases probably won’t need a dentist to point out that trauma has occurred, as most patients are already aware of the fact. To treat extensive dental injuries, your dentist would have to take some x-rays – to determine the severity of the damage, and clean up the area a little to get a clearer picture of what they are dealing with.

Solutions to tooth loss:

If you are concerned about gaps left by missing teeth, there are a number of restorative dental solutions to help regain the structure and health of your mouth:

  • Full dentures
  • Partial dentures
  • Dental implants. Learn more.

Is there any way I can avoid dental trauma?

No one can see into the future, so you can’t protect yourself against accidents or injuries 100%, but there are some precautions you can take to avoid needless pain – you should do your utmost to prepare for the unexpected, particularly where you can actually have some kind of effect on the outcome.

Wear your seat belt – Car safety equipment is very effective in modern vehicles, so don’t underestimate the difference simply wearing your seat belt can make in the event of a collision. Without some type of restraint, you’re likely to bang your head on the windscreen or steering wheel, as well as damaging your neck, and possibly worse. It’s an easy way to escape serious injury.

Tidy up after yourself – This might sound simple, but you would be surprised by the number of patients who tell stories about trips and falls that took place in the home; accidents that could have been avoided if someone had picked their shoes up and put them away.

Wear protective equipment – Manual jobs and contact sports usually require participants to wear some degree of protective clothing, and specially molded mouth guards are used to prevent dental trauma. Make sure you wear the correct headgear too; it could save your life one day. More.