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Mouth Mishaps: Cook Children's Sees Rise in Palate Injuries

So far this year, there have been 14 palate injuries from an object in the mouth, including reusable straws.

By Ashley Antle

If you’re a parent, you’ve said it to your child a thousand times. 

“Don’t run with that in your mouth!”

It could be a stick, a toy, a utensil or any other random object a child finds palatable.

While your little one may scoff at the command, it’s a fair warning. An ill-timed bump or fall could cause that object to crack a tooth or injure your child’s tongue, mouth or throat.

Data from Cook Children’s Medical Center suggests that palate injuries from an object in the mouth are on the rise. In 2021, there were two reported palate injuries, followed by eight in 2022. Already this year, there have been 14.

Six of the injuries since 2021 occurred while a child was using a straw, with some being a hard plastic or metal straw. Four of the injuries were the result of an accident while using a toothbrush. The others are from various objects, including a stick, curtain rod, spoon and plastic bat.

The activities leading to the injuries differ. They include everything from walking into a door while drinking from a straw, sneezing while using a straw, roughhousing with a sibling while brushing teeth and getting hit in the head with a ball while brushing teeth. These may sound random and far from the norm, but if you spend any time with children, you know the possibility of any one of these exists.

The key to preventing these types of injuries is to stay vigilant. Give kids a flexible, rubber straw rather than a hard plastic or metal one. Remind them not to play, roughhouse or throw or catch a ball while brushing their teeth or while holding anything in their mouths. And keep telling them not to run with objects in their mouths, even if it’s for the 1,000th time.straw generic pics-4

Jay Pearson, P.A., a physician assistant with Cook Children’s Trauma Services , says these injuries happen more than you would think.

“These soft palate injuries are considered penetrating injuries to the back of the throat and are at risk for significant complications,” Pearson said. “The risk is high enough that we activate the trauma team to do a thorough workup to make sure a significant injury is ruled out. We have seen an increase in these activations recently.”   

The most common injury from these incidents is a laceration of the palate that results in a hole in the mouth. These can be painful and interfere with a child’s eating and drinking, according to Michelle Marcincuk, M.D., Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Cook Children’s. 

“They could potentially lead to an infection deep in the neck or even extending down into the chest around the heart area which can be very severe, and very dangerous. Sometimes they need surgery,” Dr. Marcincuk said. “But the most feared complication is for the object to go deeper and injure the big blood vessels in the neck. This can cause a stroke, a blood clot, an aneurysm, a catastrophic hemorrhage or even death.”

If your child sustains an injury from carrying something in their mouth, Pearson says they need to be evaluated by a medical professional. 

“The majority of the time these palate injuries are minor, but due to the potential risk of serious injury, an abundance of caution is taken,” Pearson said.

Trauma Services specialty-landing-page-desktop

Since 1991, Cook Children's Trauma Services has been caring for children in a well-planned and highly reactive system executed by a specialized staff.

Since nearly half of our trauma patients are referred from hospitals in west and north Texas, follow-up with the referring physician is very important and a routine part of the trauma care process.

The Cook Children's Trauma Services team includes board-certified physicians supported by orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and pediatric surgeons. Many of the staff serve in leadership roles in state, regional and national trauma-related organizations and actively participate in state and regional trauma system development. The department also leads a Safety Basics program, which teaches young children how to prevent and avoid common injuries.

While no parent wants to experience a trauma facility with their child, it's reassuring to know that, through Cook Children's Team Trauma, top-notch care is just a short drive away.

Level II Trauma Designation

Thanks to years of dedication and hard work, Cook Children's Medical Center has sought and achieved Level II Trauma Designation from the American College of Surgeons and the Department of State Health Services. With this distinction, Cook Children's Medical Center is now one of only 25 such facilities in the state of Texas.