The 3 Most Common Types of Tooth Injury That Occurs in Sports

Getting hurt as an athlete used to be a rite of passage, and they'd proudly bear the scars to prove it. Fortunately, this isn't the case in oral health; modern dentistry can now repair almost any tooth injury sustained while playing a sport.

And that's quite a feat, given the multiple dental injuries players experience. Every year, 5 million Americans lose teeth in injuries related to sports, according to the American Dental Assistants' Association, and these fall into three different types:

1. Cracked Teeth

A cracked or fractured tooth, which has wildly varying levels of severity, happens most often during sports when the player sustains an abrupt blow to the face. The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (NYSSF) estimates that players who don't wear mouth guards are 60 times more likely to damage their teeth this way during competition, and a tooth injury of this nature can cause various long-term problems.

A tooth showing longitudinal cracks could have what dental professionals call "craze lines." These are scoring lines in the enamel and aren't high risk for dental health. A cracked tooth, on the other hand, involves a crack or split that begins at the crown of the tooth and extends downward into the tooth.

Symptoms you might experience with a cracked tooth include:

  • A sharp pain when you bite down, which dissipates afterward.
  • Tooth pain that comes and goes, but isn't constantly present.
  • Pain while eating and drinking, especially when you consume hot or cold foods.
  • Losing a section of the tooth's outer enamel shell, which exposes the dentin and pulp and sometimes the root surface.

It's possible you don't experience pain at all, of course, and because a cracked tooth isn't always visible to the naked eye, you may only discover it during your next dental checkup.

If the crack is a vertical fracture near the tooth's center, it usually won't cause you to lose a section of tooth and expose the tooth pulp. But if the crack extends across the out of the tooth, it could affect the cusp, which is the pointed tips of the tooth, according to the American Association of Endodontics (AAE). In these instances, your dentist may diagnose a cuspal fracture, which could necessitate having the tooth extracted or performing root canal treatment to avoid bacterial infection.

2. Fractured Roots

A tooth injury in sports isn't always limited to the crown of the tooth, either. It is possible that a blow at the wrong angle can cause a fractured root, first. This happens when a crack beginning in the root travels in the direction of the tooth's chewing surface. Because fractures are often invisible, you might only discover the problem when an infection develops. The severity of this type of tooth injury depends on the location of the fracture along the root. The sooner a patient with a root fracture receives root canal therapy (also known as endodontic treatment) to prevent infection in the pulp, the less likely they are to experience necrosis that leads to tooth loss.

3. Tooth Intrusion

Sports injuries are typically associated with teeth getting knocked out, but it's possible for a tooth to be driven back into the jawbone instead. This type of trauma is called intrusion, according to The Dental Trauma Guide, and it happens in a small percentage of dental injuries involving permanent teeth. It's more common in primary teeth because a child's alveolar bones, which hold the tooth sockets, are not hardened to the strength of an adult's.

Some of the complications arising from tooth intrusion include:

  • Destruction of the tooth pulp, either by it "dying" (necrosis) or being damaged beyond recovery during the accident.
  • Root resorption, which is a shortening of the roots. This occurs in up to 70 percent of permanent teeth that are injured in this way.
  • Ankylosis, which the Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry describes as the fusion of the root of the injured tooth to the alveolar bone.

A sports-related tooth injury has the potential to cause long-term dental problems, but only if it doesn't receive immediate attention. If you've experienced a blow to the mouth or jaw area during a particularly rough game, use an antibacterial mouth wash such as Colgate Total® Advanced Pro-Shield® to keep it clean without the sting of alcohol. You'll be back on the field in no time.