Smartphone use puts kids at risk for dental injuries

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Increased smartphone use is putting children at higher risk for traumatic dental and facial injuries, such as displaced teeth, according to an article published in Dental Traumatology (August 7, 2019). Younger children who watch videos, play games, or take selfies while lying on their backs or during bedtime are at risk for these injuries.

Traumatic dental injuries are considered the fifth most common disease in the world and affect more than a billion people, according to the authors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. The most common causes of these injuries have been sports injuries, falls, and traffic accidents, but the inadvertent dropping of smartphones is becoming a developing, unreported cause for children.

Depending on screen and touchpad size, these devices can weigh between 129 grams and 218 grams, or about a quarter to a half a pound, the authors noted. As children may lack the dexterity to hold the device for an extended time, it can fall or be dropped onto their face or teeth, causing bruises, partially dislodged or displaced teeth, fractured crowns, and more.

With increased device use, this phenomenon is becoming an etiological factor for injuries in children, they wrote. During a recent three-month period, 10 traumatic dental or facial injuries due to smartphones were added to their institute's dental trauma registry.

The authors also noted that the risks change as children age:

  • Children between the ages of 2 and 5 are vulnerable due to the soft nature of their facial structures and the pliability of their jaw areas, suggesting less force is needed to cause severe injuries.
  • Children between the ages of 2 and 6 are at risk for loosening anterior teeth, shifting them from their usual positions or bruising their lips.
  • Children between the ages of 6 and 12 who use smartphones to message, video chat, or post on social media are at the highest risk of lip bruising, tooth loosening, and related injuries.
  • Those older than 12 who use phones to take selfies are at risk for tooth injuries and lip bruises.

These injuries could be reduced or prevented with behavior change with using smartphones and other electronic devices, the authors noted.

"Their use in young children should be minimized and safety precautions must be taken for their use when resting or during sleeping time," wrote the authors, led by Nitesh Tewari, PhD, of the division of pedodontics and preventive dentistry at the Centre for Dental Education and Research at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

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