Bite Wounds: What to Do if a Child Bites or Gets Bitten
One in 10 human bites lead to infection. Take it seriously if your toddler nips you or another kid
That bite your child got on the playground may be more serious than you think. According to an article on bite wounds published in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock, the human mouth has as many as 50 different kinds of bacteria that can cause infections when teeth break through skin.
Young children bite for a number of reasons — they can’t communicate, they want attention or they don’t want to share.
Older kids may accidentally make accidentally cut their skin on someone's teeth, such as during a fist fight, which could create an opening for bacteria. “If you punch someone in the jaw and chip their tooth, it never occurs to you that ‘I may have infected myself,’” says Jeffrey Sterling, MD, president and CEO of SterlingMedicalAdvice.com, a personal health care consulting company.
Even the old-fashioned “love bite,” better known as a hickey, is a form of biting because the suction opens pores, breaks blood vessels near the skin’s surface and can transfer bacteria from the mouth, says Sterling.
Human bites are generally more hazardous than animal bites because human bacteria is harder to treat with antibiotics, according to the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma and Shock article. About three out of four bite victims are prescribed antibiotics when visiting emergency rooms, and one out of every 10 bite wounds results in an infection.
The risk of infection from a bite by a child is lower than that of a bite by an adult because children’s teeth don’t harbor as much disease or gingivitis, according to the journal article.
Nonetheless, experts say, parents should take a child's bite seriously. Not only do bite injuries require timely and effective treatment to prevent infection, but a biting habit should be addressed, says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Connecticut. “Let your kids know calmly and firmly that biting is not acceptable,” Greenberg says. She adds, “Make sure your kids are not feeling ignored.”
Adults should focus attention on the child who was bitten rather than on the biter, according to Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Lavishing even negative attention on the young perpetrator may encourage future biting because he will learn it’s an attention-grabbing tool.
Bite first aid
Before treating a bite wound, experts advise washing your hands with warm soapy water and donning protective gloves if you have them.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if the wound is bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth until it's under control. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Then apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a clean bandage.
Then, if the skin around the wound is broken, see a doctor. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the doctor might give the bite victim a tetanus shot and prescribe antibiotics, as well as check for signs of nerve and tendon damage.
According to the AAOS, a bite wound that hasn't broken the skin can be treated at home, but watch it carefully for signs of damaged nerves or tendons, such as numbness or the inability to bend or straighten a finger.
Never touch your mouth to a bite wound, even if
“kissing the boo boo” would make the child feel better.