“Some tortures are physical, and some are mental, but the one that is both is dental.” – Ogden Nash
Cracked and chipped teeth, a knocked-out tooth, broken fillings, toothaches–mouth pain can bring even the strongest of people down. Left untreated, common, minor issues with teeth can result in infection, abscess, or lead to fevers, or even death. When the world is calm, you may make an emergency visit to your local dentist, but what can you do if there is no dentist available? What can you do if you are miles from emergency dental care or in the aftermath of a catastrophic disaster where emergency dental care may never come back online? We often don’t think of this overlooked prep, and most preppers don’t even have a basic emergency dental care kit in their supplies. We have first aid kits, but an emergency dental kit is just as essential. It is one of the least expensive preps you could add to your prepping supplies. If you have ever had a major dental emergency, you can reflect on this and understand how not having an emergency dental kit could lay you out, decrease your odds of survival, and even result in death. Even a tiny kit can service several people. From infection to starvation to death, something as minor as a toothache can take you or the ones you love completely out of the picture in the aftermath of a disaster. This blog will cover a more basic kit that you can put together fairly easily and will be an invaluable resource.
This blog will examine the realities of post-disaster oral care, the basics of what you should have in your emergency kit, and how to use natural remedies. After a disaster, you will want to find a dentist for most dental emergencies as soon as possible. Hopefully, if that isn’t a possibility, what I discuss in this blog will carry you through. Let’s take a look…
The stress and trauma of a disaster can undoubtedly lead to injuries to the oral cavity. Still, even in the most tranquil times, something seemingly innocuous as losing a filling could lead to more extensive dental problems. An infection in your mouth can, at the least, reduce or eliminate your ability to eat the nutrients you need to survive; and, at worst, can lead to infection, fever symptoms, even death. So, much of post-tragedy dental care has to focus on both preventive care and relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and eliminating infections before they can take too deep a root. These are the common dental problems and how to treat them. After we run through these, we’ll get into the specifics of items you should have on hand to treat some of these potential tooth problems you may encounter.
LOSS OF FILLING OR CROWN
A filling is used to replace the decayed substance of a tooth. They repair small amounts of damage. A crown or cap is larger and is typically used if a tooth is chipped or broken. Losing either exposes sensitive and vulnerable areas of the previously repaired tooth. Losing dental work is easy to do and your problems can exponentially grow.
There are several over-the-counter remedies to treat the loss of a filling or crown, but most only address the pain. If there is no possibility of dental care, you will need to do more than just treat the pain. The application of an oral anesthetic is the first step. Applying an antiseptic of some kind will help to prevent infection. In extreme cases where no follow-on dental care is possible, you may need to use a temporary tooth filling material. Without cleaning out the infection and sanitizing the tooth, you’re only sealing the damage inside. An exposed area of a tooth with a sealed-in, unsanitized portion will lead to an infection that will require root canal treatment, something that just isn’t possible to do on your own. I will link to all of the products that I discuss in the comments section below. Suppose none of the materials specifically designed for treating emergency oral issues are available to you. In that case, you will need to apply a natural remedy for pain, a natural antibiotic or antiseptic, and wax or petroleum jelly frequently applied to seal off the damaged area of the tooth. I will cover natural remedies in a moment.
CHIPPED OR BROKEN TEETH
fall, debris impacting your mouth, or any blunt force trauma to the mouth can result in injuries to teeth ranging from loosening and bruising to cracks to avulsed teeth, or having them completely knocked out. A chipped or broken tooth can be painful, which exposes a virgin area of a tooth that can quickly become infected. Treat these injuries as you would the loss of a filling or crown, but pay more attention to the antiseptic treatment of the area. The pain will likely persist until the nerve endings die off, but this may take a while. There are three layers of a tooth: the enamel, the middle layer called the Dentine, and the Pulp. Injuries that occur in close proximity to the pulp, where the nerve resides, will continue to hurt until the nerve dies off from lack of blood flow. This stop in the blood supply can occur within a few minutes or sometimes can take months, depending upon the injury. If there is no exposed pulp, your treatment options are the same as for a lost filling or crown, but more attention needs to be focused on keeping the area infection-free. Extraction may be required for eventual relief.
If a knocked-out tooth can be put back in by a professional within 30 minutes, it might be saved. After 30 minutes, your body will treat the tooth as foreign material and not accept it. If a dental professional isn’t an option, only handle the tooth by the crown, gently wash off any debris from the roots with milk or clean water if necessary, and place the tooth back into the socket. You can also set the loose tooth between your cheek and gum. Milk contains certain substances that help the tooth stay “alive,” including sugars that the cells need to survive, proteins to maintain the right balance of acids, and antibacterial agents. Gently biting down on sterile gauze will slow bleeding and hold the tooth in place. A tooth inserted in this manner will force you into a nearly liquid diet, which isn’t optimal after a disaster. It will require that you frequently gently rinse with an antibacterial wash, change gauze frequently even after any bleeding stops, and it will take a minimum of three full weeks to reattach. In some instances where the disaster aftermath is too great and no end is in sight, reattaching the tooth may not be a viable solution. In this case, treat the tooth wound as you would any oral injury to prevent infection and encourage healing. The hope here is that the infection can be staved off, and the gums will grow over and seal the wound.
CARING FOR TEETH
Preventative dental care is key to keeping your teeth healthy. You need to expand beyond a tube of toothpaste and a cheap toothbrush in your prepping supplies. There is an excellent chance you could be cut off from your supplies in a disaster, and knowing alternate possibilities for oral care will be critical for you. Baking soda can be used to brush teeth if no toothpaste is available, but it is slightly more abrasive than toothpaste. You will want to use a gentler pressure. One alternative is fine wood ash. It may seem counterintuitive to put black ash on your teeth, but wood ash binds to carbon and can remove stains. Wood ash contains potassium hydroxide or lye, so it cleans, but it can damage teeth due to its abrasiveness and the hardness of the lye. Still, if you mix a slight amount of powdery wood ash from softwoods with a bit of baking soda, it will create a toothpaste that can be rubbed on the teeth with a finger or soft cloth. Rinse thoroughly, and you will be amazed at how clean and fresh your mouth will feel.
Gargling and rinsing the mouth out with a mixture of baking soda, salt, and water will contain oral microflora, provide a marginal decrease in harmful bacterias like Streptococci and Moraxella species, and alter mouth pH. Sodium Bicarbonate oral rinse may be considered a cheap and effective alternative for alcohol-based mouthwash, especially where prolonged duration usage is required. To make this concoction, you need about 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/8th teaspoon salt, and warm or room temperature water. This is the same natural mouthwash and rinse you will want to use when treating mouth wounds. Gently swish the water through the mouth for a few seconds, then expel it, repeat every five minutes for bleeding wounds, and less frequently for general wounds.
Do you know how the dentist is always telling you to floss more? Well, chances are you aren’t flossing, and you should be. Especially after a disaster, though, the range of foods might lead to some of it getting stuck in your teeth. Over even a short amount of time, the food can decay and cause bacterial infections in widened and exposed teeth cavities. There are many uses for dental floss in an emergency, so you should probably have some already in your prepping supplies. If you don’t, you will definitely want some in your dental care kit. BrushPicks will also be handy for removing food particles around and between teeth.
If no toothbrush is available, you can use a clean finger or a microfiber cloth. When using a microfiber cloth, you should be as gentle as possible, but it will be very effective when combined with a gentle abrasive toothpaste concoction.
BUILDING YOUR KIT
The nice thing about an emergency dental kit is that it is so compact. It can be contained in a small container and will easily fit into a pocket of a jacket or backpack. Your kit should include toothpaste in either a tube, tablet, or powder form. I prefer toothpaste powder for my emergency case, as the shelf life for toothpaste is about two years before it starts to change color, flavor, or lose effectiveness. A bentonite clay compound, however, will last for many years. After further research, if you decide to make your own, make sure to use a food-grade bentonite compound, as non-food grade may contain high levels of aluminum. Again, I will link to an option in the comments below. Beyond toothpaste, you will need a toothbrush, baking soda, and salt for a rinse, dental floss, and a pick. Those are the essentials for maintaining your teeth. You should also build out your emergency kit to include these items for more traumatic injuries:
If you need to work in your mouth for any period of time and there are open wounds, sterile gloves will prevent exposing the wounds to harmful contaminants or bacteria. Nitrile gloves are preferred over latex, as some people have latex allergies.
DENTAL MIRROR AND PENLIGHT
It can be hard to see in your mouth or in the back areas of other people’s mouths. A dental mirror and a small penlight can provide you with the line of sight you need to do a thorough job. Dental mirrors are very inexpensive and your penlight doesn’t have to be overly bright. One that is designed for medical use will provide you just enough light, and it will also let you diagnose pupil width to determine other medical traumas to the head.
While you won’t want to give teeth cleaning because of the risk of injury, having a small kit of dental tools can help you surgically extract shrapnel in the mouth and clean wound areas. Because of their compact size, affordability, and other practical uses, having a basic dental tool kit in your inventory is a good idea. Be sure to clean these thoroughly by boiling and dousing with alcohol or heating in an open flame before inserting them into your mouth.
STERILE SUTURE KIT
Hopefully, you will never have to suture a large wound of the mouth. Fortunately, the mouth heals itself faster than other parts of the body, but a deep and profusely bleeding wound may require suturing. Having a sterile mixed suture kit will allow you to address both wounds of the mouth and the rest of the body.
For less traumatic injuries but sometimes just as painful, you will want to have the following in your kit:
Clove Oil contains the active ingredient eugenol, which is a natural anesthetic. It helps numb and reduce pain to ease a toothache. Eugenol also has natural anti-inflammatory properties. Used straight, it can irritate, so it is best mixed with a neutral oil like coconut oil or as part of a rinse. The oil can be directly applied to the enamel of the tooth. Clove oil has some antibacterial properties. Special diluted and preformulated combinations made especially for toothaches are available. Clove oil is the gold standard of dental pain relief and antiseptic treatment of an area. IF you pass on the other natural remedies I mention, do not pass up getting this in your inventory.
Peppermint oil is potent, so it has to be diluted before direct application, but in a mixture of 30% peppermint oil, it can reduce pain and increase healing blood flow.
TEA TREE OIL
Diluted Tea Tree Oil can be used as part of an oral rinse. It is an effective oil with broad-spectrum antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Tea tree should NOT be used for internal use other than for a mouthwash or toothpaste – you must spit it out after use and rinse with water.
An oral antiseptic like Benzocaine can be a very effective, temporary remedy for oral pain. Though most containers are less than a half-ounce, when you need to use it, you will be glad you have this tiny but potent medication in your emergency dental care kit.
COTTON GAUZE, COTTON SWABS, AND BALLS OR PADS
For soaking up blood, preventing contamination of open wounds, gently holding injured teeth in place, or creating a consistently medicated and sterile area, you will want cotton gauze, cotton swabs, and cotton balls or pads. Medications can be applied directly to teeth, or a cotton ball or pad can be soaked in medicine and placed over and on the sides surrounding a tooth. Gauze can be packed into an area and will be more effective than cotton balls to isolate an area in a sterile medium.
A small piece of orthodontic wax can be placed in a cleaned and treated chip or fracture line to prevent infection and keep the area clean. If you are desperate and no dental wax is available, candle wax can be used. Barring those options, vaseline can be used frequently because it is a mixture of various non-polar hydrophobic hydrocarbons and is insoluble in water.
DENTEMP REPAIR KIT
When there is no emergency care on the horizon, you may need to use dental cement to hold you over as long as you can. Eventually, you will need a permanent solution, but dental cement, filling repair, and cap and crown repair cement kits can cover the majority of minor teeth cracks, fractures, and lost dental work. More permanent dental repair compounds are affordable, but self-repairing teeth is not easy. You will want the fine dental tools when adding these compounds to your emergency dental kit.
Crowns of many shapes and sizes are available in packets of 100. This isn’t a permanent solution, by any means, but when combined with a denture adhesive cream can put a sheath over a tooth until proper dental care can be obtained.
FITTED MOUTH GUARD
A soft gel-fitted mouthguard can help keep teeth that have been misaligned back into proper form. A small amount of medication applied to the trough can create a more aseptic environment and a continual small dose of medication to the upper or lower teeth.
I suggest that the prepper who wants to take this as seriously as possible acquire the book Where There is No Dentist by Murray Dickson. This book will provide you with what you need to know for most dental procedures when there is no dental care available at all.
If you are certain that the disaster will not pass and that future professional dental attention isn’t possible, you will need a dental extraction kit and dental irrigation syringes. Extracting a tooth without a properly trained professional dentist is only for extreme survival situations, and every other option should be explored before this one. You may recall, though, from the Hollywood blockbuster Cast Away that tooth extraction may be essential to survival, and having the right tool for this process will make it easier and more efficient.
You will also want some of these essential items you likely already have as part of your emergency kit: alcohol prep pads, Hydrogen Peroxide, Tylenol, and Ibuprofen.
If you lack traditional medicines, there are some effective natural medicines you can use. I already mentioned the only practical oils you should consider: Clove, Peppermint, and Tea Tree oils. Other natural remedies include placing an Echinacea tea bag on the area. This will both absorb blood, may reduce inflammation, and can kill many forms of bacteria. Absent tea bags, Echinacea or Cornflower is ubiquitous in the wild. Native Americans and other traditional healers have used echinacea for hundreds of years to treat infections and wounds. The plant can be chewed and a poultice held in the mouth on the damaged area.
Kaffir Lime leaves can be chewed and held in the mouth to reduce bacteria. A garlic paste can be made from a smashed clove and will also have potent antibacterial qualities. Cloves, as I mentioned earlier, were often inserted into tooth cavities because of their numbing effects. If you have no oil, applying clove powder will have some similar but lesser effects. Ginger root is also recognized as having some natural antibiotic effect. It is also used to treat nausea, which is a frequent side effect of dental pain.
Hopefully, you will never be entirely without dental care for too long of a period because one dental problem can easily become a debilitating emergency. The reality is, though, that a disaster can result in blunt force traumas to the teeth. Everyday use of the teeth in a post-disaster environment with a post-disaster diet may result in damage to teeth or gums. Take a multi-step approach to your emergency dental care. First, make sure that you are continuing regular care of your teeth. Second, make sure you have the tools you need for minor tooth problems and repairs. And, even though I hope you never need to have them, knowing how to and having the tools to extract teeth can be a lifesaver. If it is weeks or months before you receive professional dental care, you have to know how to temporarily treat your own teeth. Everything I mentioned for a complete key can be obtained for under $100 and will take up a very small amount of space, so building out an emergency dental kit is as essential as building out your first aid kit. Dental pain or damage can reduce your odds of survival in an instant.
What’s the worst dental pain you have ever experienced? Could you have survived that pain and a grid-down disaster?
As always, please stay safe out there.