A dental emergency can become a huge problem when professional medical aid is not available. It can bring down to its knees, even the strongest person out there, and all the survival chores you need to accomplish will have to wait until you take care of the dental emergency. Here are some tips to help you deal with a dental emergency in an inhospitable environment.
If you recall the movie Cast Away (one of my favorites), you probably remember that the protagonist played by Tom Hanks managed to survive for four years on a deserted island after his plane crashes in the ocean.
The most traumatizing experience Tom had to endure was, in my opinion, the bad tooth he developed that gave him excruciating pain. At some point, he was forced to get the tooth out, and he managed to do so using an ice skate blade, a rock, and brute force. However, knocking the toot out using such a method may not work for everyone, and there might have been another solution. Even more, he could have prevented the dental emergency from getting that bad.
Can it happen to you?
While that scene had a dramatic impact on all of us, just take a minute to think about that scenario. What would you do if you develop a dental emergency such as an infected or cracked tooth, an oral fungal infection, or lacerated gums?
I can guarantee that if you lack the know-how to treat your dental emergency and if no medical aid is available, you will be in a world of hurt.
Most of us have experienced various dental problems, and even a mild toothache can create a level of discomfort that becomes unbearable for some, and they wish to get rid of it as fast as possible. Without proper treatment, even an infected tooth or a seemingly minor abscess can become life-threatening.
Fortunately, there are items out there that can help you deal with a dental emergency, and you can either fashion them yourself or are readily available in nature. Before we go further, I would like to recommend one of the books from my survival library that teaches you more about dealing with a dental emergency in remote locations, third-world countries, or in long-term survival scenarios. The book is called “Where there is no Dentist” and was written by Murray Dickson.
Having mouthwash available off the grid is crucial for preventing a dental emergency, and basically, you can rinse your mouth with a mixture of ½ teaspoon of salt dissolved in a cup of warm water. Do this every day, and you will prevent bacteria from building up in your mouth.
This mixture is slightly changing the pH balance in your mouth and creates an alkaline environment that hinders the growth of bacteria responsible for tooth-decaying. With a little bit of luck, the solution won’t irritate the mucous membranes lining your mouth and will help maintain a steady balance.
If you find yourself in a survival scenario like Tom, you can boil ocean water to obtain salt crystals, but you should avoid rinsing with untreated seawater. If you aren’t on a deserted ocean, the next best thing would be to find hickory roots and boil them until the water evaporates. The crystals you will notice afterward in your boiling pan are salt.
Regarding the use of saltwater, it is beneficial to rinse with pure saltwater to keep a hood oral hygiene, but the use of raw seawater for such purpose or using it on open wounds may create some problems. I’ve talked about this in a previous article, and you can find more information here.
Making your own toothbrush
If you forget to pack your toothbrush or you’re simply missing one, you can create your own without much trouble. You can use a small tree branch from soft trees such as ash, willow, poplar, or pine. Pick a branch that has roughly the same size as your normal pencil, and it should be thick enough to not break when you are brushing your teeth. You can chew the end of the branch or smash it with a rock to soften it.
Even if you don’t have toothpaste, brushing your teeth with only water is better than not brushing them at all. Even more, you can floss your teeth by using smaller cordage from your paracord or natural fibers from yucca plant and other nontoxic fibrous items.
Mister Dickson also discusses in his book how one can treat various dental emergencies since poor dental and gum care can lead to infections. The gums will often get infected due to a poor diet, and they get loose around the teeth. This allows bacteria to grow in the space created between the teeth and the gums and infections will occur sooner or later. Not to mention that your gums can bleed, swell, and become painful, signaling you that an infection is taking place.
Related article: Make Your Own Toothpaste And Mouthwash
Dealing with infections
When an infection gets deeper and reaches the root of the tooth, chances are it will spread to the adjacent bone. From there, things can get worse as the infection can find its way into the bloodstream and reach your heart, causing a life-threatening situation.
If that happens, you will be able to treat the infection only by administrating intravenous antibiotics. As you can imagine, such antibiotics may not be available in an off-the-grid scenario. This is why it becomes mandatory to recognize the first signs of an infection before it can cause more serious damage to your body.
Being able to use oral antibiotics as early as possible to prevent infection could save your life. I don’t think there’s the need to stress out how important it is to have some in your first aid kit. While I have antibiotics such as Penicillin, Amoxicillin, or Clindamycin stored, I’m also opting for natural remedies such as garlic, onion, chamomile, and Echinacea. These natural remedies will boost your immune system in a long-term survival scenario, but if the infection is too advanced, they won’t help too much.
If you have to deal with an abscess, the first thing you have to do is to drain it in order to relieve the pain and pressure. For doing so, you would need a sterile needle or a sharp, clean (sterile) knife. Cut the area carefully and allow the pus to drain.
If you keep good oral hygiene, you might not have to attempt oral surgery on yourself and improvise barbaric measures like mister Hanks did in the Cast Away movie. Keep in mind that these dangerous procedures are your last resort, and you should do everything possible to end up in that spot.
How about an infected tooth?
You can easily recognize if one of your teeth gets infected since one of the early signs is the tooth becoming sore when chewing. When the pain is constant and severe, you might be dealing with a deeper infection or an abscess in said tooth. For example, a dental cavity or a missing filling and even a loose crown can create the perfect place for bacteria to settle in. You will need to clean the tooth and fill the breach if you want to prevent further damage.
Dental emergency kit
On the market, there are available dental kits that have everything you might need to clean and fill a cavity, including even an instruction manual on how to do so. Some people buy such kits while others prefer to make their own by purchasing various dental tools and adding them their first aid kit to save some room in their survival bag.
If you want to build your own, you will need to purchase a probe, scaler, spoon, and a filling tool as the minimum. In an environment where these tools are not available, you will have to make them by using scavenged items. For example, a coat hanger can be fashioned to improvise a tool that can help you clean or remove a tooth. However, before using any improvised tools, make sure you sterilize the tools by boiling them in clean water.
Dealing with tooth damage
Sometimes, you may knock your tooth our completely or break it by accident. In such a scenario, you will be forced to decide if you pull the tooth out or if you try to fix the problem. When the tooth changes color (gets darker) or is broken deep at the root, you will have to remove it. The same goes if the nerve of the tooth becomes exposed.
Before doing this, it will be ideal for injecting some Lidocaine with a syringe into the gums. For the upper teeth, you will need to inject it into the gums at the root above the tooth. For the lower teeth, you should inject it inside the mouth above the angle of the jaw. These are the spots where the tooth nerve enters the jawbone.
If the tooth gets knocked out completely, you will have to replace it, and you should do so as soon as possible.
To improvise a gauze off-the-grid, Mother nature can help you by providing alfalfa leaves, cayenne, or calendula. These are effective natural remedies that can successfully stop bleeding. If you lack these, the best next thing would be to use a piece of clean cloth or even a tampon as a temporary absorbent.
Concluding on dental emergency
Educating yourself on how to deal with a dental emergency off-the-grid or during a SHTF scenario prior to a dire situation will help get back home with all your teeth in place. There are books out there providing valuable information on how to deal with medical emergencies when there is no dentist available. One of the books I can also recommend is SurvivalMD.
Even more, you can speak with your dentist and ask his or her help to build a dental emergency kit and provide tips on how to use it when the time calls for it. Dental supplies are often overlooked when building a bug out bag, and this may lead to a dire situation if you are forced to survive on your own for a longer period of time. Be smart about it and take care of your pearly whites!