The Dangerous Sport of Spectating

The medical director of the MCI arena in D.C. now called the Verizon Center, and the home of the Washington Capitals conducted a study on the safety of fans at hockey games over the course of five-years. He discovered that three to four people per game on average are hit by hockey pucks, and typically one of those requires medical treatment related to the injury.

Flying pucks aren’t always the only danger either. While watching a game in October of 1993 Wayne Gretzky’s wife was injured while and taken by ambulance to the hospital where she required an overnight stay. When two players collided during the game, the heavy plexiglass pane separating the spectators in the first row from the ice gave in and fell on her resulting in injuries that required several stitches in her lip and a concussion.

In 2012, a 13-year-old fan was killed at a hockey game due to complications after being hit in the head with a deflected puck. This tragic event prompted the NHL to require safety netting at each end of all arenas to prevent anything like that from ever happening again.

Although hockey leads the sports world in injuries to players, baseball actually owns the statistics for most dangerous spectator sport in the United States. MLB numbers show 35 to 50 injuries a year, many just bumps and bruises, but five spectator-related deaths have occurred in the history of the sport. These numbers may seem concerning, but when you think about the number of games in a hockey or baseball season, the probability of being injured while attending a sporting event is very low overall.

Many of the injuries fans and players alike have suffered from over the years are facial traumas.

Rockwall area Oral and Facial Surgeon, Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS MS, says,

“Injuries to the face, by their very nature, impart a high degree of emotional as well as physical trauma to patients. Types of facial injuries can range from broken teeth to damage to the skin and bones of the face. Since you can’t put a cast on the face when a bone is broken, other treatments have to be considered.”

The most common injury in hockey comes as no surprise. Hockey fans have sported toothless smiles to match their favorite players, some of which have lost teeth in the same location more than once. One player, Tomas Tatar, left wing for the Detroit Red Wings has knocked out the same three teeth, four times.

Dr. Pollock says his most commonly seen injury is broken or knocked out teeth.

“If a tooth is knocked out it should be placed in salt water or milk. The sooner the tooth is re-inserted into the dental socket, the better chance it will survive. Never attempt to wipe the tooth off, since remnants of the ligament that hold the tooth in the jaw are attached and are vital to the success of replanting the tooth.”

Thankfully, all professional hockey teams now travel with their own dentist, who’s there to mend everything from busted gums to the teeth you sometimes see a player spit out after an ugly fight or high-sticking to the mouth. We don’t all have personal dentists that travel with us everywhere we go, but thanks to Dr. Pollock’s tips, we know what to do now if tooth tragedy strikes.