Dealing With Your Oral Health in the Absence of Professional Medical Aid
Do you remember the movie Cast Away?
In this film, protagonist Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks) survives four years on a deserted island after his plane goes down in the ocean. At one point in the movie, Mr. Noland develops a bad tooth. Since a professional dentist isn’t available to extract the tooth, he’s forced to improvise and gruesomely knocks the tooth out with an ice skate blade and a rock. Isn’t there a better way? Could he have prevented the situation from getting that bad?
While this may have been played up for dramatic effect, think about that scenario for a second. If you develop severe dental problems, such as an infected or cracked tooth, lacerated gums, an oral fungal infection, or one of many other nasty issues in that opening you’re using to eat food and drink water, what can you do? If no medical help is available, you may be in a world of hurt.
Anyone who has experienced even a mild toothache or onset of a cavity knows that it’s a level of discomfort you wish to rid yourself of as quickly as possible, lest it become unbearably painful. Without proper treatment, an abscess or infected tooth could even be life-threatening. First, let’s talk preventive measures. Don’t assume that if you’re without floss or a toothbrush you’ll just have to hope for the best. There are items out there you can either fashion yourself or that can be found in nature. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Answers to those questions can be found in Murray Dickson’s book, Where There Is No Dentist. First released in November 1983, it’s an excellent, easy-to-understand resource to manage various dental issues in remote third-world countries or a long-term survival situation. Like Mr. Dickson, we value preparedness.
Mother Nature’s Mouthwash
As part of a preventive strategy, you can rinse your mouth with a mixture of ½ teaspoon of table salt dissolved in a cup of warm water every day to keep harmful bacteria to a minimum. This works by gently altering the pH balance in your mouth to create an alkaline environment that impedes the growth of specific tooth-decay-causing bacteria. Fortunately, the saltwater solution won’t irritate the mucous membranes that line your mouth and help maintain its equilibrium.
In a survival situation, you can boil ocean water down to procure sea salt crystals, but rinsing with untreated seawater should always be avoided (more on that shortly). If you aren’t near an ocean, you can boil hickory roots until the water evaporates. The crystals left in the pan are salt. You might even be lucky enough to find a salt block in a farmer’s field.
It’s important to note that while pure saltwater rinses can be beneficial for oral health, the use of saltwater — especially raw seawater — on open wounds elsewhere on the body poses some concerns. See our “Debunked” column elsewhere in this issue for more details on saltwater wound care.
Where There Is No Dentist by Murray Dickson