Dental care while vactioning

July 1, 2011

Ah…summertime. The great outdoors beckon. Thousands of Americans will spend their vacations hiking the trails of Texas and the national parks.

Once on the trail, these happy campers may trek miles from civilization. They set off in anticipation with full packs, strong hiking boots and big smiles. Dentists at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry say those smiles, if not properly cared for, can make for an agonizing hike home.

In addition to tetanus shots, dental care should be included in travel preparation, especially when headed to remote destinations. To prevent problems, a routine dental checkup prior to travel is best.

Proper oral hygiene should remain part of any backpacker’s daily ritual. If toothpaste isn’t available, dentists say, brush the teeth with a wet or dry toothbrush. No toothbrush either? Clean those pearly whites with a soft cloth, a finger or even the chewed end of a stick shaped into a makeshift brush.

Dr. Charles W. Wakefield, professor and director of the Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency program at TAMHSC-Baylor College of Dentistry, says it is not a death sentence for a tooth if it is knocked out on the trail. The most important thing to remember is that the first 30 minutes after injury are the most crucial to the tooth’s future health.

Have the person bite down on cloth to slow bleeding, Dr. Wakefield says. Holding the tooth by the crown (the non-root area), wash it with sterile water and dilute with salt water (saline) or milk if it is available. Do not scrub the root surface. Try to reinsert the tooth after vigorously rinsing the mouth to remove any blood clot remnants, and then have the person hold it in place with gauze or cloth.

If the tooth cannot be reinserted, Dr. Wakefield says wash it as directed above and wrap in sterile gauze. Do not transport the tooth in water, but try to keep it from open air.

“If you have to transport a tooth, do not let it dry out; it must stay wet,” Dr. Wakefield says. “Placing the tooth in milk is best, or you can use saline. Another alternative is to put it in your mouth and hold between the cheek and teeth.”

Medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be taken for pain relief, but it is important to see a dentist as soon as possible.

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