How Do You Take Care of a Busted Lip?

TLC for lip wounds

Child crying with split lip

Your preschooler face-planted on the playground and split her lip. Between the wailing (hers), the blood (also hers) and the tears (possibly both of yours), it’s … a lot.

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What’s your next move? Pediatrician Ei Ye Mon, MD, explains how to treat this common kid injury.

How to treat a split lip

Injuries to the mouth often look worse than they are, Dr. Ye Mon says. “This area has a lot of blood vessels, so even a small cut can look like a lot of blood.” But there’s a silver lining, she adds: “Because it has so many blood vessels, cuts around the mouth also tend to heal quickly.”

Dr. Ye Mon says to follow these steps to kick-start the healing process.

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  1. Clean it. Flush the cut with cold water to wash it out. If your toddler launched down the slide headfirst, there’s a good chance he landed in something messy. “Take a look to see if there’s any sand or dirt left in the wound. Make sure you remove that,” says Dr. Ye Mon.
  2. Apply pressure. Use gauze or a clean cloth to hold pressure against the cut, says Dr. Ye Mon. Most cuts to the mouth stop bleeding within 5 to 10 minutes with pressure applied.
  3. Numb it. Use an ice pack or an ice cube wrapped in a cloth to numb the cut and help ease the pain, Dr. Ye Mon recommends. For younger kids, an ice pop can do double duty, serving as both a cold compress and sweet distraction.
  4. Treat pain. If your kiddo is still uncomfortable, use children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen to take the edge off. You can skip the antibiotic ointment, Dr. Ye Mon says. And don’t bother trying to stick an adhesive bandage to the cut.
  5. Eat with care. Skip lemonade and anything acidic or spicy while the lip is healing. You might want to plan an easy-to-chew menu the first day, too.
  6. Keep an eye on it. A lip wound should heal itself in three or four days, Dr. Ye Mon says. “If you notice swelling, discharge from the wound, fever, or worsening pain or redness, see a doctor.” 

When to see a doctor for lip wounds

Most split lips aren’t emergencies. “It can be scary, but most of the time they heal on their own without stitches,” Dr. Ye Mon says.

But sometimes, hugs and ice pops aren’t enough. More serious cuts may need dissolvable stitches or skin adhesive to help with healing and reduce scarring, she notes. See a doctor for a cut on the lip if:

  • The cut is long or deep — more than a half inch long or a half inch deep.
  • An object pierces a hole through the lip or cuts across the border where the lip meets the face.
  • Your child hit a rusty or dirty object, or there’s debris in the wound that you can’t flush out with water. “You need medical attention to have the wound cleaned and make sure tetanus shots are up to date,” Dr. Ye Mon says.
  • Your child hasn’t had a tetanus shot, or you’re unsure of her immunization status.
  • The cut is still bleeding profusely after 10 minutes of applying pressure. “In that case, continue to hold pressure while you bring them to the doctor,” she says.
  • A tooth is knocked loose during the fall. “If there’s a tooth injury, a dentist is usually a better option than going to the emergency room,” she says.
  • The wound isn’t healing or you see signs of infection such as worsening redness, swelling or discharge.

Unfortunately, you can’t boo-boo-proof your kids. But with a little TLC, that busted lip will be smiling again in no time.  

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