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An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry

Treatment, prevention and other issues affecting athletes' performance and well-being

By Dr. Stephen C. Mills

Sports injuries and dentistry.

A high school basketball player is fighting for a rebound. Suddenly she is struck by the opponent's elbow and her neck is jerked back and immediately she feels for her mouth. A small amount of blood appears and the certified athletic trainer runs out to assess the injury. Teammates search the floor for either teeth or pieces of teeth, which have been knocked out. Parents watch helplessly from the stands wondering what has happened.

Unfortunately, this is not an unusual scenario. Injuries are a part of sports and injuries in and around the mouth (oral-facial injuries) are very common. This basketball example does however, bring several questions immediately to mind. First, is treatment needed immediately or can it wait? What is the correct immediate and definitive treatment? Can the player keep playing or when can the player return to normal play? Is specific protection necessary for the injured area? Should protection have been provided to this individual before this ever happened? And finally, is my dentist able to answer all of these questions and properly handle sports injuries?

“Oral-facial” injuries can have significant negative functional, esthetic, and psychological effects both on children and adults.

In addition, sports dentistry is concerned with subjects such as smokeless tobacco abuse, nutritional issues such as the erosive potential of sports drinks, substance abuse in athletes and many other topics which can be connected in some way to athletes and their overall health. What should athletes, parents, trainers, coaches and care providers know about sports injuries and their prevention? This article will summarize and answer a few of the many questions, which arose when our fictitious basketball player was injured.

Risky Business

Nobody goes into sports with the idea of intentionally injuring him or herself, but even if not intentional, many injuries are preventable. “Oral-facial” injuries, those involving trauma to the mouth and face, can have significant negative functional, esthetic, and psychological effects both on children and adults.

Only recently, has greater attention focused on this critical but often overlooked segment of injuries. While oral-facial injuries are rarely life threatening, they can be debilitating and costly over the life of a person. In fact, it's estimated that over a quarter of dental-related injuries occur while playing sports. A recent study on consumer products and activities associated with dental injuries to children treated in United States emergency rooms between 1990-2003 indicated that:

  • An average of 22,000 dental injuries annually occurred among children less than 18 years of age.
  • Children with primary (baby) teeth, less than 7 years old sustained over half of the dental injuries in activities associated with home furniture.
  • Outdoor recreational products and activities were associated with the largest number of dental injuries among children ages 7-12 and almost half of these were associated with bicycles.
  • Among children with permanent (adult) teeth age 13-17, sports-related products/activities were associated with the highest number of dental injuries.
  • Of all sports, baseball and basketball were associated with the largest number of dental injuries.

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