How my little girl impaled herself on a toothbrush
00:17 GMT, 9 October 2012
The day started with the usual chaotic rush before school. I was in the kitchen while my daughter, Laurie, nine, and her brothers, Samuel, seven, and Luke, six, brushed their teeth upstairs.
I’d told them off a few times for squabbling. Then I heard a different type of scream. It was the something-really-bad-has-happened scream that every parent dreads. Laurie ran down the stairs, ashen-faced, her mouth clamped shut. As she opened it, blood spattered over the floor.
She was screaming so much I couldn’t find out what had happened. Her brothers, also in tears, said she’d hurt herself with her electric toothbrush.
Nasty accident: Michele's daughter Laurie stabbed herself with her toothbrush
When she finally allowed me to look in her mouth, through the blood and saliva, it looked as if she had badly grazed the back of her throat.
We went straight to the NHS walk-in centre, where Laurie told me she’d been play-kicking her brothers when her knee caught her arm, causing her to stab herself with her toothbrush. I checked her mouth again — there was an inch-long, toothbrush head-sized hole.
The nurse phoned the hospital for advice and we were told to see a dentist. He said he couldn’t believe the injury had been caused by a child’s toothbrush because it was so deep. After consulting with a maxillofacial surgeon over the phone, he said they wouldn’t stitch it, but reassured Laurie that mouth wounds heal quickly. He gave her antibiotics and Corsodyl mouthwash to keep the wound clean.
A few days later, we returned for a check-up. The wound was healing well and becoming less painful, so Laurie could eat and drink. Just two weeks later, it had closed completely.
If a child is going to have an accident with a toothbrush, typically it’s an impaling wound, though usually this is caused by a manual toothbrush.
In February, the journal Dental Traumatology reported that a boy had slipped and fallen while playing with his sister and brushing his teeth at the same time. He, too, had embedded the toothbrush into the side of his mouth.
In a similar case to Laurie’s, the head of a ten-year-old girl’s toothbrush had snapped off after she fainted — it lodged in the back of her throat.
According to the latest statistics from the Home Accident Surveillance System, there were 20 toothbrush-related accidents in the past year. These would need to have been serious to be reported, so I’m guessing Laurie’s accident was not uncommon.
Of course, I felt guilty about not having supervised my children while they were brushing their teeth. Sheila Merrill, public health adviser to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, says children need to keep still while brushing their teeth.
‘Children should be discouraged from putting sharp objects, such as toothbrushes, pens or pencils, into their mouth while playing or moving around.’
But I was left with a niggling feeling about the accident — surely a children’s toothbrush shouldn’t be able to penetrate soft tissue
I examined Laurie’s toothbrush, Sonicare For Kids, and I could see why it had caused such a wound. The head, aimed at children over seven, is long, thin and, though coated in rubber, pointed. As parents, we have a duty of care to make sure our children use their toothbrushes properly, but manufacturers also need to take into account that children do mess around when brushing their teeth.
When I compared the over-sevens’ brush to the version for younger children, it was far more pointy.
Philips, the manufacturer, told me their products are developed to the highest standards of quality and safety. Furthermore, there had not been any reported incidents with regards to the safety of their toothbrushes.
‘We remind parents that toothbrushes are not toys and have always strongly recommended children are supervised while brushing their teeth to ensure they learn good brushing habits,’ the spokes-person told me.
After all, consumer safety is paramount for manufacturers. But after doing a quick search online, I wasn’t so sure.
I found reports of numerous incidents where electric and battery-operated toothbrushes for children and adults have caused tooth chipping, choking and burns. Some have even exploded.
While none of the brands involved is available in Britain, my family will be sticking to manual toothbrushes from now on. And glueing the children’s feet to the bathroom floor.