Backcountry Tooth Care

Treat dental problems–from minor to major–with these tips.

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Problem Forgotten toothpaste or toothbrush

Solution Improvise a brush by chewing the end of a small twig into a fan shape, advises Kathleen Proulx, a registered dental hygienist in Boulder, Colorado. No toothpaste? Brush with water, rinse, and repeat; then chew sugar-free gum (keep some in your first-aid kit) for 30 minutes to help remove lingering bacteria. Or munch on apples, grapes, celery, or carrots. Enzymes in these “detergent foods” fight plaque.

Problem Throbbing toothache

Solution Pain, sudden sensitivity to hot and cold, swelling, and pimplelike lesions on the gums could signal an abscess–a potentially serious infection in the tooth. Rinse your mouth several times a day with a solution of1/2 teaspoon salt and eight ounces of water and get to your dentist ASAP.

Problem Broken or knocked-out tooth

Solution Protect a cracked tooth’s sensitive nerve from air by biting down on a piece of gauze; if it’s a front tooth, cover the area with a chewed piece of gum. Handle a knocked-out tooth as little as possible; rinse it in filtered water and put it back in its socket, biting on gauze to keep it in place. If that doesn’t work, put the tooth under the victim’s tongue (best) or in a bottle of filtered water. Apply a cold water bladder to your cheek to reduce swelling, take ibuprofen for the pain, and hike out to your dentist–chances of saving the tooth drop dramatically after a few hours, says Dennis Beck, a dentist in Wheaton, Illinois.

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