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Traumatic Injuries of the Lips and Tongue

What Is It?
Symptoms
Diagnosis
Expected Duration
Prevention
Treatment
When To Call a Professional
Prognosis

What Is It?

Trauma to the lips, tongue and the inside of the mouth is quite common. The soft flesh of the lips and their exposed location make them vulnerable to injury. A blow to the face can crush your lips against your teeth, causing bruising or cuts. Your teeth can cut the inside of your lip or puncture your skin. A fall or blow may cause you to bite your tongue.

Any cut inside the mouth usually bleeds heavily because of the rich supply of blood to the area.

Symptoms

Symptoms include bruising, swelling, bleeding or cuts on the lips or tongue.

Diagnosis

Your dentist or physician will ask about what happened to cause your recent trauma and do a thorough physical exam of the area. If the lips are injured, he or she will check the teeth and bone for damage, and look for pieces of chipped tooth.

Expected Duration

The healing time for a lip or tongue injury will depend on how badly it is cut. However, the mouth has many blood vessels, which promotes quick healing.

Prevention

Many lip and tongue injuries occur during sports or other active pastimes. They often could be prevented through the use of a safety mouth guard. Mouth guards are made of soft plastic that is adapted to fit the shape of the upper teeth. Guards made for heavier contact sports may cover both the upper and lower teeth. Mouth guards protect both the lips and teeth by providing a shield in front of the teeth and a softer biting surface for the back teeth. Preformed guards are available in sporting goods stores. A dentist can create a custom-fit guard.

Routinely using seat belts and car seats can reduce the risk of trauma as a result of car accidents.

Treatment

At home, you can clean injured skin surfaces with mild soapy water and a soft, clean cloth. To clean cuts inside the mouth, rinse with salt water or a hydrogen peroxide solution (one part hydrogen peroxide and one part water). Be sure not to swallow this peroxide rinse. However, do not be concerned if it foams. This is what the rinse normally does when it contacts mouth tissue.

If your lip is swollen or bruised, apply a cold compress. If there is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth for at least five minutes. Using ice can help limit swelling, bleeding and discomfort. Wrap crushed ice in clean gauze or a clean piece of cloth and hold it on the area affected.

Certain injuries will require treatment by an oral surgeon or plastic surgeon. It is particularly important to have an experienced surgeon stitch cuts that cross the vermilion border. This is the line that forms the junction between the skin and the fleshy part of the lip. Experience is required to make sure this boundary heals correctly. Even a small irregularity will remain noticeable.

The doctor will first thoroughly clean the wound with lots of saline or a hydrogen peroxide rinse. Cleaning removes bacteria as well as foreign matter such as dirt that might have entered the wound. A betadine solution will then be applied to the area to disinfect it. Puncture wounds to the lip will then be closed from the inside out. Stitching all layers reduces the chance of scarring..

Small puncture wounds in the tongue usually heal without any treatment other than cleansing with antiseptic or hydrogen peroxide rinses. Large cuts may require stitches.

The mouth contains many bacteria. For this reason, an antibiotic often is prescribed after a cut to the lip or tongue to prevent infection.

When To Call a Professional

Seek medical care if:

  • Bleeding cannot be controlled with pressure and a cold compress
  • You have a deep cut
  • A cut crosses the border between the lip and facial skin
  • The lip is punctured
  • An infection develops after an injury — Signs of any infection usually will be evident about four days after the injury. Signs include:
    • Redness
    • Tenderness
    • Fever
    • Drainage of pus
    • Swelling

If a tooth is loose or broken, visit your dentist.

Prognosis

The outlook is excellent. The rich blood supply in the mouth promotes rapid healing, often with little scarring.

©2002-2013 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

2/28/13

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