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Letter: Prevent dental and facial injuries

Summer season is finally upon us, and with it comes the opportunity for outdoor activities, including recreational and organized sports. As a member of the Minnesota Dental Association's Board and a practicing dentist in Worthington, I would like to remind parents and young athletes to play it safe as you suit up for those summer activities.

The mouth and face of a child or young adult can be easily injured if the proper precautions are not used while participating in sports or recreational activities. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of the 7 million sports- and recreation-related injuries that occur each year are sustained by children as young as 5 years old. Last year, the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation forecasted that more than 3 million teeth would be knocked out in youth sporting events. They also reported that athletes who don't wear mouth guards are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth.

I urge parents and coaches to be proactive to keep children safe on the field. Here are some important tips to remember:

nWear a mouth guard when playing contact sports. Mouth guards can help prevent injury to a person's jaw, mouth and teeth, and they are significantly less expensive than the cost to repair an injury. Dentists can make customized mouth guards, which provide the best fit. Other less-expensive options are the boil-and-bite mouth guards, which are softened in boiling water to fit the mouth, and stock mouth guards, which are ready-to-wear but often don't fit well.

n Wear a helmet. Helmets absorb the energy of an impact and help prevent damage to the head.

n Wear protective eyewear. Eyes are extremely vulnerable to damage, especially when playing sports.

n Wear a face shield to avoid damage to the delicate bones around the eyes, nose and jaw. Hockey pucks, baseballs and softballs can cause severe facial damage at any age.

No matter how cautious we might be, we all know that accidents can happen. In the unfortunate circumstance that a tooth is cracked or knocked out, knowing what to do in an emergency can be the difference between saving and losing a tooth.

Here are some tips:

n For a knocked-out permanent or adult tooth, keep it moist at all times. If you can, try placing the tooth back in the socket without touching the root. If that's not possible, place it in between your cheek and gums or in milk. Then, get to your dentist's office right away.

n For a cracked tooth, immediately rinse the mouth with warm water to clean the area. Put cold compresses on the face to keep any swelling down.

n If you bite your tongue or lip, clean the area gently with water and apply a cold compress.

n If you have a dental emergency, it's important to visit your dentist or an emergency room as soon as possible.

Summer is also a good time to schedule children's regular dental exams, so why not start out the sports season right, by visiting your dentist for advice about getting a properly fitted mouth guard. Children can expect to keep their teeth for a lifetime, so start them off on the right track through good oral health habits and proper safety measures that will keep them smiling!

Maureen Sorensen, D.D.S.