Now that school is back in session and many of our kids are returning to organized athletic activities, it's time to talk a little bit about jaw injuries on the athletic field. Certainly there is a great deal of information in the news media about concussion and sports-related injuries – especially for heavy contact sports like football and rugby or combat-related athletics like boxing and martial arts. But anytime your child sustains a body hit or blow to the head during a sporting event or physical activity, a tooth or jaw injury may also occur secondary to any other potential injuries to the head and neck.
The most common secondary effect of physical impact on the athletic field is the tendency for the teeth to slam together in reaction to the hit. Even an indirect blow to the body can sometimes force the lower jaw to slam hard enough into the upper jaw that fractured teeth or even a fractured jaw bone may result. A properly-fitted sportsguard is specifically designed to protect your child from these types of injuries. A sportsguard provides a cushion that not only keeps the teeth from slamming into one another, but also holds the joint space a little more open in order to provide some additional protection against a possible fracture in the base of the skull or jaw.
Sportsguards are commonly available in most drugstores and online. It is important that the guard fits your child correctly, and that it is not too big or too small to offer adequate protection. Custom-fabricated sportsguards are also available in our office, and I am always happy to look at an over-the-counter guard to make sure it fits your child properly. But remember, even with a sportsgaurd in place, sometimes injury to your child's jaw or teeth can still occur.
Whiplash to the jaw is an especially common injury associated with sports-related impact. When your child's head is thrown off the center of the neck as a result of a direct hit to the head or body, the lower jaw tends to be thrown with equal force in the opposite direction. Just as the muscles and ligaments in the neck can be overstretched into a whiplash injury when this happens, so can the muscles and ligaments of the jaw. A sportsgaurd can be of some protection against a jaw whiplash, particularly if your child's teeth happen to be resting against it at the moment of impact, reducing the free-swing action of the lower jaw, but not always.
Sometimes a jaw whiplash is fairly minor, resulting in a little soreness in the cheek muscles that resolves within a week or so. Frequently, however, the symptoms of jaw whiplash do not show up until 7 to 10 days after the injuring incident. These symptoms can include jaw pain, headaches, ear pain, and even tooth pain. Your child may not make the connection that these symptoms are possibly related to the fall or hit they took on the athletic field a week or more ago, but you should be on the lookout for them.
A short time in a nightguard or splint to help support the jaw during healing, combined with some massage or physical therapy, may be all your child might need to mitigate the sometimes debilitating pain of a whiplash injury to the jaw. For even more information and some ideas on home care for an injured jaw, please take a look at the newest installment in my ongoing series on headaches entitled Jaw Injuries and Muscle Strain.
As always, I encourage you to call the office with questions or to schedule an appointment to have your child evaluated if you suspect he or she may have a jaw or tooth injury.