North Carolina is in the NCAA’s Final Four again this year. That’s not too much of a surprise: the Tar Heels have been in 25% of all Final Fours. But it doesn’t diminish the excitement of UNC fans, who can sometimes get carried away in their festivities. And we’re not just talking about a few too many potent potables, though that can be a factor, too. No, we’re talking about the many pickup basketball games that people get into after watching their beloved Tar Heels dominate another opponent.

When people get out on the basketball court, trying to duplicate the feats of the college athletes they see on screen, they can suffer serious orofacial injuries.

Basketball arena

Types of Orofacial Injuries Sustained During Basketball

There aren’t detailed assessments of the frequency of orofacial injuries in basketball, but we know that basketball has one of the highest orofacial injury rates of all sports. That’s partly because people aren’t required to wear a mouthguard during the sport at lower levels.

A survey of high school basketball players showed that, on average, they experienced about 4 orofacial injuries per player per season. The good news is that most of these injuries were relatively minor: cuts and bruises of soft tissue, including lips and gums. These minor injuries accounted for 84% of all injuries.

The next most common type of injury is temporomandibular joint injuries caused by a blow to the jaw, which can displace the cushioning disc in the joint, accounting for about 13% of all injuries. Dental injuries were relatively rare, accounting for just 2% of injuries.

Avoiding Orofacial Injuries When You Play

Since most college and even professional basketball players don’t use a mouthguard, we know that recommending a mouthguard would probably not be heeded–even though it’s a good idea for players at all skill levels. Instead, we’ll recommend the following:

Know Your Skill Level: Weekend athletes are more likely to get injured than those who practice and play every day. If you try to do what your favorite players are doing, you’re more likely to get hurt. Don’t push yourself too hard and you’re less likely to get hurt.

Know Your Endurance: The more tired you get, the more likely you are to make mistakes and get hurt. When you start to feel tired, take a break. If necessary, put yourself on the bench and send in a sub–or cede the game.

Don’t Play Too Aggressively: This is a friendly game, with family and friends, for fun. There’s nothing really at stake. So there’s no need to scramble and fight for rebounds. And there’s certainly no need to throw elbows or body checks.

If You Do Get Injured

However, even if you’re taking it easy, it’s likely that someone will get hurt. If dental injuries do occur, it’s important to respond properly.

If you take a blow to the jaw, apply ice at the jaw joint. This will help counteract swelling that can cause pain and may hamper the joint from finding its proper configuration. If your jaw joint or muscles are sore, try eating soft foods for a few days and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil). But if jaw pain worsens, doesn’t improve after a week, or includes symptoms like headaches, neck pain, and ear symptoms, you may have developed TMJ as a result of your injury.

If you get a chipped tooth, you should get it looked at. If the tooth isn’t sensitive, you can postpone seeing a dentist, but if it’s painful you should try to see a dentist as soon as possible. Structural damage to the tooth can be repaired with a dental crown, and porcelain veneers are the best approach to repairing cosmetic chips to teeth.

If you get a tooth knocked out, try to place it back in its socket if possible. If you can’t easily get it back in, put it in saliva, milk, or water and see a dentist immediately. Knocked out teeth can sometimes be re-attached.

If you’ve experienced a jaw joint or dental injury (whether basketball related or not) in Wilmington, NC, please call (910) 392-6060 today for an appointment with reconstructive dentist Dr. Michael Kuzma.