The soft tissues in the mouth are delicate and sensitive, and when they are injured, it can be very painful. Soft tissues, which include the tongue, cheeks, gums and lips, can be injured when you accidentally bite down on them, if you fall, are in an accident, or if you put food in your mouth that is too hot. Chewing on hard objects also can damage soft tissues.
The main symptom is persistent, throbbing pain. At first, the tooth will be sensitive to heat and pressure while chewing. Later, you may develop a fever. Swollen lymph nodes under the jaw or in the neck can be tender and you may feel pain in the sinus area. If the abscess ruptures, a sudden rush of foul-smelling and foul-tasting fluid will spill into the mouth.
What You Can Do
Soft tissue injuries usually do not bleed a lot, but when they do, the injury can seem worse than it really is. When the blood mixes with saliva, it may look like you are bleeding a lot. In most cases, the bleeding should stop within a few minutes. In the meantime, here's what you should do:
- Rinse your mouth thoroughly with a mild saltwater solution (1/2 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of water).
- If the bleeding continues, press a damp piece of gauze against the injured area for 10 to 15 minutes. If you don't have gauze, you can use a sanitary napkin, tampon or a clean piece of material that will soak up blood and saliva.
- To relieve pain, slow the bleeding, and reduce swelling, hold ice to the area for five or 10 minutes.
- If the bleeding doesn't stop within a few minutes, the injury may be serious and you will need to see a doctor, preferably an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, right away. Maintain pressure on the area until you can be treated.
What Your Dentist Will Do
Dentists are trained to diagnose and repair damage to the soft tissues, but doctors and oral surgeons in hospital emergency rooms usually handle serious injuries to these areas.
The doctor or oral surgeon will wash the area thoroughly and determine whether the teeth are loose or damaged. If the teeth are not damaged and the injury is limited to the gum or other soft tissues, you may need stitches to close the wound and control the bleeding. In most cases, stitches will not be necessary, and the doctor will only need to wash the area thoroughly and remove any dirt or debris.
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Reviewed by the faculty of Columbia University College of Dental Medicine