I was reminded of this just a few days ago. No, not on a camping trip or even in the wilds. It was, nonetheless, a good reminder to review my medical supplies.
This is not the sexy side of wilderness medicine. What attracts most of us to the austere or wilderness medical setting is the trauma and the life-saving aspects.
Dentistry… not so much.
I must admit, I have frequently wondered how or why anyone would want to go into a field where sticking your hands in others’ mouths is what you do patient after patient after patient.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’ve stuck my hands in plenty of mouths and plenty of other orifices, natural or otherwise. But knowing that would be my job with EVERY patient. No, thank you.
So, for many of us, we simply forget about this aspect of wilderness medicine and focus on stopping bleeding, placing chest tubes, or improvising slings out of just about anything. That is until you have your own dental issue to contend with.
Many suffer from a condition known as bruxism. This is the act of teeth grinding, especially at night. Some do this as a form of stress relief, others during sleep for unknown reasons. Regardless, you are likely to know someone who does this, even if they do not. This condition leaves the patient at increased risk for tooth fracture.
That is what happened to me.
One second, I am happily biting into a sandwich. The next, my mouth and jaw are on fire.
You are prepared for the pain aspect with your medical kit. Ibuprofen, Tylenol, or even stronger pain medications are tucked safely in your pack.
The only problem is that the tooth has a jagged edge where it sheared off. With each swallow or syllable spoken, the tongue brushes past those saw blades and causes a rather unpleasant sensation to your tongue.
What to do?
My recommendation is to add some dental or orthodontic wax to your medical kit. This is exactly what I purchased and what is protecting my tongue at this very moment. This wax has been a lifesaver and would have prevented severe pain, and likely stoppage of an outdoor trip had I been in the wilds when this occurred.
What could you have done if, like me, you had not thought of the dental wax beforehand?
A wad of gauze, moleskin or any other sterile or clean material would also have done the trick. There are a few problems with this, however. You want to be sure to change the padding relatively frequently (at least daily). The padding will quickly become a nidus for infection, and you definitely do not want to have a dental abscess on top of your fractured tooth. This padding would also be less comfortable.
Think back to your last dental procedure with packing and you’ll remember just how uncomfortable.
I hope you found this article informative and will be sure to add dental wax (and other dental supplies) to your outdoor medical kit. If you have any suggestions for future articles or questions about this one, be sure to leave comments.
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