Oral injuries to the face and mouth are common among young children. Most injuries happen when children fall. They often stumble as they are learning to walk and when they are physically active. Injuries may happen when children trip, run with items in their mouths, climb stairs, or climb on furniture. The top front teeth are injured most often. They can be chipped, pushed into the gum, pushed forward or back in the mouth, or knocked out. Bruises or cuts in or near the mouth are also common. Some children receive burns from chewing on electrical cords that are plugged into a socket.
Oral injuries also occur from child abuse. Many of the signs of child maltreatment are similar to those that occur from unintentional injuries, including cuts in and around the mouth, loosened or broken teeth, and bruising or other injuries to the face. Often, physical signs of child abuse are accompanied by sudden changes in a child’s behavior, such as becoming fearful of certain places or people.
It is important to take steps to prevent oral injuries, and to treat injuries that do occur. Being prepared and knowing how to respond to urgent oral health problems may be the difference between making a child comfortable and avoiding a painful experience.
Tips and Strategies for Preventing and Responding to Oral Injuries
- Conduct health and safety checks. Use safety gates and cover sharp corners on furniture. Remove hazards or obstacles that could cause falls. Pick up toys and other items from the floor to prevent children from tripping. Keep enough uncluttered space for children to move and play. Inspect playground equipment to make sure it is safe.
- Work with Health Services Advisory Committee members, family committees, home visitors, child safety experts, and others to develop and implement policies and procedures to help prevent oral injuries.
- Inform families if their child experiences an oral injury.
- Keep a log of all injuries and review it quarterly to identify patterns about where and when injuries occur. Use the information to make changes to the environment.
- Use staff training and coaching opportunities, parent meetings, newsletters, and social media to teach Head Start staff and families how to avoid and respond to oral injuries. Invite oral health professionals, child-safety experts, and others to talk about active supervision and how to prevent and respond to oral injuries.
- Include supplies and instructions for treating oral injuries in your program’s first-aid and emergency preparedness kits, and make sure they are readily accessible.
- Train Head Start staff to respond effectively to oral injuries and to demonstrate safety and first aid practices.
- Train all Head Start staff to recognize oral signs of child abuse and report suspected child abuse to the child protection agency in their jurisdiction.
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Last Updated: October 30, 2023