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Foreign Body Injuries

What are Foreign Body Injuries?

A common example of a foreign body injury is a wood splinter in the finger, which causes a localized inflammatory response—swelling, pain, redness, and (although it may be imperceptible), a local increase in the temperature of the tissue. The same can happen in the mouth, and a common culprit is the husk of a popcorn kernel, which may embed itself beneath the gums in an area where it cannot easily be removed. Another fairly common occurrence is trauma to the face, which may result in sand, gravel, tooth fragments, or other foreign debris becoming embedded in the lips or other soft tissue.

When foreign body injuries occur, the site becomes inflamed and tender. If the foreign object remains in the tissue, bacterial infection may result. Inflammation is a mechanism by which the body protects itself from foreign objects. A complex system of signaling molecules causes blood flow to the affected area to increase, so that immune cells can be delivered to fight infection. Frequently the foreign object(s) will require mechanical removal by a health professional.

How does the dentist diagnose Foreign Body Injuries?

Note: ToothIQ.com contains general information. Only a dentist can properly diagnose your specific condition.

A patient with a foreign body injury will generally describe becoming aware of a localized area of tenderness, although many will not recall the event of a foreign body lodging in the tissue. Inspection of the oral hard and soft tissues generally results in observation of a localized area of inflammation (and possible infection, if the object has been in place more than a day or two). The area will be red, swollen, and will generally bleed easily when lightly stimulated.

X-rays (radiographs) of the area may help to locate the foreign object, although many of the most common artifacts (e.g. popcorn, wood splinters from tooth picks) don’t show up well on radiographs. In the case of broken teeth with lip lacerations, dentists will often take X-ray images of the lip(s) to look for tooth fragments. It may be necessary to make an incision to allow the swelling to drain, so that better visibility of the area can be obtained.

How are Foreign Body Injuries treated?

Foreign objects that become embedded in the oral soft tissues can frequently be removed with fine-tipped dental instruments. Local anesthetic and surgical incision may sometimes be needed.

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Author: Thomas J. Greany, D.D.S. / Editor: Ken Lambrecht

This page was last updated on March 2, 2018.

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