February 22, 2023

How to prevent accidents and signs of facial trauma to look for if you do fall.

A fall can lead to several injury concerns — a broken bone or a severe bruise, for example. But an injury people may not be as familiar with is facial trauma. If you fall and strike your face on an object or the floor or ground, you may experience facial trauma that could result in the need for surgery. Such falls tend to be more common in seniors, but everyone should be aware that a fall may affect their oral health and focus on fall-prevention strategies.

“We do see some significant facial trauma with ground-level falls,” said Dr. Samuel McKenna, a surgeon with Vanderbilt Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. “Multiple facial fractures require operative intervention to reduce the fractures and to facilitate healing.”

Based on the frequency with which he’s seeing patients with this type of injury, McKenna said the incidence of facial trauma from falls may be surpassing the incidence of facial trauma from motor vehicle accidents.

Signs of facial trauma

If you or a loved one experiences a fall, watch for red flags. These include facial swelling, bruising, a visual deformity, teeth no longer coming together properly, or loose teeth. If you have any of these signs and symptoms, seek an examination with an oral surgeon, McKenna said. “These things would certainly make us think that there are some underlying facial fractures,” he added.

“Watch for red flags. These include facial swelling, bruising, a visual deformity, teeth no longer coming together properly, or loose teeth.”

Many patients do present for an evaluation after a fall. “We typically don’t see patients showing up two weeks later,” McKenna said. But he hopes to raise more awareness about fall prevention so that facial trauma is less likely to occur.

Fall prevention

Falls may occur for several reasons, including medication side-effects and aging processes that can lead to instability. “Things that people can do to try to prevent these falls,” he said, “is first, realize that it can happen and be careful in those circumstances where they might fall.”

McKenna shared a common scenario in which falls occur. “For example,” he said, “getting up out of bed and possibly feeling somewhat unstable and then trucking off to the bathroom and tripping over a rug.”

If you do need to get up in the middle of the night, turn a light on so that you can see a clear path. Also take measures around your home to prevent any obstacles that could lead to tripping, such as removing rugs, avoiding clutter or furniture in walkways, and using handholds to aid steadiness.

fall prevention tips

Help when you need it

Vanderbilt’s oral and maxillofacial surgeons care for people with complex injuries, diseases or deformities of the jaws and face. The team has the expertise to manage or repair a wide variety of problems, with a goal of reducing pain and providing better quality of life. For an appointment, call 615-322-2377.

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