Dental equipment and dental exams are not often written about within the context of long-term survival. This is surprising because our mouths are a portal into our body. Oral bacteria and decay can quickly move throughout our system using saliva as a carrier. The result is sickness and a compromised immune system.
In this newest article in our Survival Medic Series, Dr. Joe Alton explains what procedures and supplies we need to know about when dealing with dental health.
Why Dental Health is Important
Many of our readers are surprised that “The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for when Medical Help is Not on the Way” devotes a portion of its pages to dental issues. Indeed, few who are otherwise medically prepared seem to devote much time to dental health. Poor dental health can cause issues that affect the work efficiency of members of your group in survival settings. When your people are not at 100% effectiveness, your chances of survival decrease and anyone who has experienced a toothache knows how it affects work performance.
A survival medic’s philosophy should be that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It doesn’t take a dentist to know that. When it comes to your teeth, enforcing a regimen of good dental hygiene will save your loved ones a lot of pain (and yourself a few headaches).
This article will discuss procedures that are best performed by someone with experience. Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to have a dentist in your party. The information here will give you a basis of knowledge that may help you deal with some basic issues.
The Survival Dental Kit and Exam
The prepared medic will have included dental supplies in their storage, but what exactly would make sense in austere settings? You would want the kit to be portable, so dentist chairs and other heavy equipment wouldn’t be practical.
We’ve mentioned that gloves for medical and dental purposes are one item that you should have in quantity. Don’t ever stick your bare hands in someone’s mouth. Buy hypoallergenic nitrile gloves instead of latex. For additional protection, masks should also be stored and worn by the medic.
Other items that are useful to the survival “dentist” are:
Dental floss, dental picks, toothbrushes, toothpaste or baking soda
Dental or orthodontic wax as used for braces; even candle wax will do in a pinch. Use it to splint a loose tooth to its neighbors
A Rubber bite block to keep the mouth open. This provides good visualization and protection from getting bitten. A large eraser would serve the purpose
Cotton pellets, Cotton rolls, Q-tips, gauze sponges (cut into small squares)
Commercial temporary filling material, such as Tempanol, Cavit, or Den-temp
Oil of cloves (eugenol), a natural anesthetic. Often found in these commercial preparations such as these: Red Cross Toothache Medicine (85% eugenol) and Dent’s Toothache Drops (benzocaine in combo with eugenol)
Note: It’s important to know that eugenol might burn the tongue, so be careful when touching anything but teeth with it.
Oral analgesics like Hurricaine or Orajel (Benzocaine)
Zinc oxide powder; when mixed with 2 drops of clove oil, it will harden into temporary filling cement
Spatula for mixing (a tongue depressor will do)
Oil of oregano, a natural antibacterial
A bulb syringe to blow air and dry teeth for better visualization, and as a diagnostic tool to elicit discomfort in damaged teeth
An irrigation syringe to clean areas upon which work is being done
Scalpels (#15 or #10) to incise and drain abscesses
Dental probes, also called “explorers”
Dental scrapers/scalers to remove plaque and probe question- able areas
Spoon excavators. These instruments have a flat circular tip that is used to “excavate” decayed material from a tooth. A powered dental drill would be a much better choice, but not likely to be an option off the grid.
Elevators. These are thin but solid chisel-like instruments that help with extractions by separating ligaments that hold teeth in their sockets. #301 or #12B are good choices. In a pinch, some parts of a Swiss army knife might work.
Extraction forceps. These are like pliers with curved ends. They come in versions specific to upper and lower teeth and, sometimes, left and right.
There are more types of dental extractors than there are teeth, you should at least have several. Although every dentist has their preferences, you should consider including the following in your dental kit:
#151 or #79N for lower front teeth
#150A or #150 for upper front teeth
#23, best for lower right or left molars
#53R, best for upper right molars
#53L, best for upper left molars
Blood-clotting Agents: There are a number of products, such as Act-Cel, that help control bleeding in the mouth after extractions or other procedures. Act-Cel comes in a fabric square that can be cut to size and placed directly on the bleeding socket or gum.
Sutures: A kit consisting of a needle holder, forceps, scissors, and a suture material is helpful for the control of bleeding after extraction or to preserve the normal contour of gum tissue. We recommend 4/0 Chromic catgut as it is absorbable and delicate enough for the oral cavity but large enough for the non-surgeon to handle. Don’t forget a small scissors to cut the string. More information on suture materials can be found later in this book
Pain medication and antibiotics. Medications in the Penicillin family are preferred if not allergic. For those allergic to Penicillin, Erythromycin can be used. For tooth abscesses, Clindamycin is a good choice. Antibiotics are discussed in detail in our book and in various sections of our website at doomandbloom.net.
Additional Reading: Why Store Fish Antibiotics For Survival
The Survival Dental Exam
Because your hands and your patient’s mouth are colonized with bacteria, every exam should begin with hand washing and the donning of gloves. All instruments should have been thoroughly cleaned or sterilized between exams. If an instrument has touched blood, consider using heat in the form of boiling water (or steam from a pressure cooker).
Alcohol or bleach solution may be sufficient in cases where there was no blood involved
Have your patient open their mouth so that you can investigate the area. A dental mirror and dental probe, also called an “explorer”, are good tools to start with. Does the patient have any problems opening and closing their mouth? Are there sores at the corner of their mouths (sometimes seen in vitamin B2 and other nutritional deficiencies)?
Evaluate the cheek linings, the roof of the mouth, the tongue, tonsils, and the back of the throat. Are the gums pink, or are they red and swollen? Do they bleed easily when lightly touched by the probe?
Are there “canker” or “cold” sores? Contrary to popular opinion, these are not the same thing. Cold sore, or fever blisters, start off as small blisters and are caused by Herpes type I virus. They mostly affect the hard gums and the roof of your mouth. Canker sores are less certain in origin. They are shallow ulcers that affect soft parts like the inside of your lips and cheeks, the floor of the mouth, and the underside of the tongue.
Other soft tissues to check out include the tonsils. Are they enlarged? Are they or the back of the throat reddened and dotted with pus? These can be signs of tonsillitis or Strep throat.
Once you have checked the soft tissues inside the mouth, it’s time to examine the teeth.
Using your dental explorer, carefully look around for any obvious cavities. A cavity will appear as a dark pit where bacteria has demineralized the enamel. Search for fractures, missing fillings, or other irregularities. Even if there is nothing visible, however, there may still be serious decay between teeth or below the gums. Patients with this issue may have pain, otherwise known as “a toothache”.
You’ll find information on how to deal with a toothache, broken and “knocked-out” teeth, and other dental issues in The Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way.
Once you’ve identified the problem area, you can do your best to deal with the problem. With the items above, you’ll be more prepared for most survival dental issues.
Note: Our dental kit is designed to have the materials necessary to function in a survival setting and comes with a free copy of “Where There is No Dentist”. That doesn’t mean that, in normal times, you shouldn’t seek out a dentist; whenever and wherever modern dental care is available, seek it out.
Note: This giveaway is now over.
Now that you understand the importance of having the proper tools on hand to perform emergency dental procedures, you may be thinking “Wow, that is a lot of stuff”. Not to worry, Dr. Joe aka Dr. Bones, and his wife Nurse Amy have put together an Emergency Dental Kit with everything you need tucked into a pack. The best part is that they are offering one for free to a lucky Backdoor Survival Reader.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Although comments are not necessary to win, you do get five “entries” for answering the giveaway question. Just remember that you must select the “I Commented” entry in the Rafflecopter to have your comment recorded in the random drawing. The question for this drawing is: “Other than the lack of prescription drugs, what aspect of survival medicine concerns you the most?”
The deadline is 6:00 PM MST next Tuesday with the winner notified by email and announced on the Rafflecopter in the article. Please note that the winner must claim their prize within 48 hours or an alternate will be selected.
Note: Due to Customs requirements, this giveaway is only open to those with a mailing address in the United States.
The Final Word
This is not the first time dental health has been featured on this website. Perhaps that is because I was once personally involved in a dental crisis while in the middle of nowhere, on vacation. It was a miserable experience that was resolved a week later when I arrived home. I can only imagine how bad things might have been if the abscess had been allowed to fester, without treatment.
Although antibiotics are usually a treatment of last resort, I do keep fish antibiotics, clove essential oil, Dentek (for broken fillings and loose crowns), and an irrigation syringe in all of my kits. I also see a dentist twice a year and brush and floss twice a day. Dental emergencies are the worst!
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article, including a link to sources for clove oil, the one essential oil that I find most beneficial for toothaches.
The SURVIVAL MEDICINE Handbook: Third Edition: This book by Dr. Joe Alton is the definitive source of medical information for all Prepper’s and is my go-to bible not only for emergency medicine but for day to day ailments as well.
Deluxe Dental Emergency Survival Kit: This kit has everything you need to handle a dental emergency. It includes supplies used for oral hygiene, gum treatment, dental pain, missing fillings, and tooth extractions extraction (yuck!). It is complete with instructions including a copy of the acclaimed book, Where There Is No Dentist. Be sure to also visit their store for other kits and items that will ensure you are medically prepared.
Where There Is No Dentist: Community health workers, educators, and individuals from around the world use this book to help people care for their teeth and gums. The author uses straightforward language and careful instructions to explain how to: examine patients; diagnose common dental problems; make and use dental equipment; use local anesthetics; place fillings, and remove teeth.
Dentek Temparin Max Lost Filling & Loose Cap Repair: Who would have guessed that this type of product would be only $5.00.
Clove Essential Oil: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals. They are high quality yet reasonably priced. In addition, there are no membership fees and a distributor relationship is not necessary to get the best pricing. Interested in checking them out? Backdoor Survival readers get a 10% discount by using coupon code BACKDOORSURVIVAL at checkout! A 5ML bottle is only $5.99 before discounts.
Additional Reading: 20 Ways To Benefit from Clove Essential Oil
NOW Foods Essential Oils: I use essential oils from Spark Naturals. For healing purposes, I feel they are superior. On the other hand, NOW Foods has decent essential oils at a budget price plus they can be purchased at Amazon.com. Here are a few to get you started: NOW Foods Rosemary Oil, NOW Foods Peppermint Oil, and Now Foods Lavender Oil, plus, of course, Clove Oil.
Dynarex Black Nitrile Exam Gloves, Heavy-Duty, Box/100: This brand is the #1 seller on Amazon. Pick your size; both Shelly and I wear a medium.
3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduce your exposure to airborne particles.
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Author Bio: Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the 3 category #1 Amazon Bestseller "The Survival Medicine Handbook". See their articles in Backwoods Home, Survival Quarterly, and other great magazines as well as their website at www.doomandbloom.net. The opinions voiced by Joe Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, ARNP. are their own and are not meant to take the place of seeking medical help from a qualified healthcare provider.