Wilderness Dentistry


Summer beckocairn-1286256_960_720ns! Campers, hikers and woodsmen [woods people?] cease hibernating and venture out into the back country.

Prudence recommends that anyone intending to spend any length of time removed from civilization has taken an appropriate first aid course and carries a purpose designed first aid kit. The Scout motto, “Be prepared!” extends to dealing with the expected and especially the unexpected.

Generally we tend to forget about our health needs during wilderness forays. The most neglected need is our oral health.The following briefly reviews possible oral emergencies that may be encountered. A list of resources ranging from the health professional level to the outdoor lay enthusiast is suggested from expert and reputable organizations.

As in most emergencies, the main culprits are:

  1. Trauma,
  2. Infection,
  3. Bleeding, and
  4. Pain.

Depending on the emergency, your actions may range from immediate evacuation to seeing your dentist as soon after getting home as possible.

Trauma includes jaw and joint injury, fractured teeth and soft tissue injuries.   Broken jaws are serious injuries requiring stabilization and immediate evacuation to professional care. Dislocated lower jaws may be reduced and treated symptomatically until one can get to their dentist or an ER.

Fractured teeth come in several varieties – uncomplicated crown fractures [the part that you can see in the mouth], and complicated crown fractures in which the pulp [nerve] is exposed, crown-root fractures, and root fractures.

Uncomplicated fractures need dental care, but are not acute emergencies requiring immediate evacuation. Complicated crown fractures need cleaning and coverage to protect the nerve. Get dental care as soon as practicable. Crown –root fractures and root fractures must be stabilized. Seeing a dentist quickly is recommended.

If a tooth is extruded, or moved out of position, reposition it and see your dentists as more complicated treatment will be needed. Should the tooth be knocked out, gently clean the root with water or saline – do not handle the root or scrape it clean- and replace it in the socket. Further dental care will be needed.

Infection, dentally speaking, ranges from a cavity (decay is a bacterial infection) to full blown cellulitis where the tissues are swollen, very painful and depending on the location, life threatening.

Cavities that are aching may be filled with temporary filling materials that you can find in some drugstores or even wax and should be attended to after the trip. Abscessed teeth will need more care than is possible in the field, whereas cellulitis requires evacuation if you are not equipped to treat it appropriately in the field.

All of the foregoing usually have pain associated which may range in severity from over the counter medications to prescription pain medications and antibiotics for relief.

To  prepare for a longer wilderness outing, a preventive visit to your dentist is highly recommended. This is especially true the further from civilization that you are planing to venture. An ounce of prevention and all of that…

Further backcountry or wilderness medical/first aid information and courses may be found at the following sites:

Wilderness Medical Society

Outward Boundsport-310484_960_720

National Outdoor Leadership School

Wilderness Medical Associates

St. John Ambulance

Like  Scouts, enjoy the wilderness;
… Be prepared!


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *