The human mouth is a filthy, filthy place. So is a hockey player once they’re more than a few minutes into a game, and the combination of the two is a not-uncommon occurrence in the NHL. Mikhail Grabovski’s (alleged) biting of Max Pacioretty’s arm, Alex Burrows’ (obvious) biting of Patrice Bergeron’s finger, Marc Savard’s (repeated) biting of everyone’s everything, and countless other incidents of mouth versus body part have grossed us all out year after year.
Unlike a skate cut which involves a tetanus shot, a wound washout and a suture repair, a bite is a nasty customer that can offer all of the above plus an x-ray and the potential for a raging infection. While a hockey skate may seem disgusting, it can’t hold a candle to the festering cesspool you carry around in the lower half of your face.
Why is my mouth so disgusting?
Your mouth is a fertile breeding ground for almost 200 species of bacteria that would love to infect some other location on the human body. It has the perfect combination of warmth, moisture, and nooks and crannies provided by your teeth and gums. Your mouth is so disgusting that the American Dental Association recommends that you take antibiotics before dental work if you have a total joint replacement or are at risk for infective endocarditis (an infection inside your heart). Quick recap: Your mouth is so disgusting that it can infect your own heart or prosthetic joint. That’s extraordinarily disgusting.
As if having multiple species of bacteria in your mouth weren’t bad enough, they cling to your teeth, gums and cheeks in a slimy coating called a biofilm. That well-anchored biofilm keeps all the nasty critters in your mouth perfectly poised to leave your teeth in favour of the arm you’re (allegedly) biting. Biofilms also form on mouthguards, so even if you’re brushing your teeth regularly (please do), unless you’re also cleaning that mouthguard you’re biting down into a filthy bacterial wonderland every time you put it in your mouth.
Exactly what’s living in there?
200 species of bacteria live in the average human mouth, but as many as 700 different species have actually been identified there. Every time someone researches oral bacteria they seem to come up with several new species. Got that? There’s stuff in your mouth science has never seen before. There’s also stuff science is very familiar with that can cause dental infections. Stuff with names like Enterococcus fecalis (that second word is exactly what you think it is). Stuff that’s related to the same bacteria that cause syphilis, pneumonia, and gonorrhea. All that stuff is in your mouth. IN. YOUR. MOUTH.
OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD WHAT DO I DO???
Just brush and floss your teeth regularly. It’s really that simple. For extra points you can use a mouthwash with an antibacterial ingredient like triclosan or chlorhexidine in it. You’ll never get rid of all your assorted mouth filth, but you can keep it under control and avoid infections in your teeth and gums.
I’m a hockey player and I was (allegedly) just bitten by another hockey player. Now what?
Pacioretty (allegedly) got off easy with a tetanus shot and some antibiotics after Grabovski (allegedly) chomped on his forearm during a smothering attempt. Pacioretty claims Grabovski drew blood, and that would be where the tetanus shot and antibiotics come in. If a bite wound doesn’t break the skin, there’s nothing to do but wash it off and whine to the nearest linesman. If the skin is broken and/or the wound is in an area that’s at high risk for infection there’s much more to do. Wash the area, give antibiotics in certain cases – bites on the hand, very deep bites, bites that involve bone, joint, or tendon – and a tetanus shot if that’s not up to date.*
Fight bites are a special case. A fight bite, also known as a reverse bite, happens when someone gets punched in the mouth and their teeth mess up the incoming knuckles. Bone and tendon can be damaged, and an x-ray looking for broken-off teeth is standard. So is a call to a hand surgeon, because hands are important and mouths are dirty. Other special cases are bites that take off a body part (which hopefully the bitten person will bring with them to the hospital), bites to the face (helloooooo plastic surgeon), and bites that have been ignored and subsequently developed a horrible festering infection (way to make good life choices, bud).
All things considered, most of the recent NHL bites have been fairly minor, with no plastic surgery, long-term IV antibiotics or missing chunks of ear. They also haven’t come with a whole lot of conclusive evidence, so they haven’t brought with them much in the way of discipline. The take-home lesson seems to be that if you put your hands in someone’s face, you risk getting bitten – as disgusting and wrong as that might be.
*Seriously, this is 2013 and we have science. Why on earth would anyone’s tetanus shot not be up to date? Get a booster every ten years, because lockjaw isn’t cool. It’s cheap or free at heath departments, pharmacies, your doctor’s office, and walk-in clinics.
And now a quick tour through a few more disturbing NHL biting incidents:
Will you be anywhere near Bridgeport this weekend? Will you be far from Bridgeport but willing to make the trip? The AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers will be hosting You Can Play Night on Saturday February 23rd at their game against the Manchester Monarchs. The evening will be in support of the completely excellent You Can Play Project, which is “…dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.” All the info you need can be found over at the always-fantastic PuckBuddys.