Preparing for a Dental Emergency

Emergency-Dental-Repair-dental-first-aidDisasters can become an even greater disaster if you are coping with the pain of a broken tooth, particularly if it is severe pain such as is caused by a broken tooth with an exposed root.  Since a trip to the dentist may not be feasible in an emergency situation, it’s a good idea to include a dental repair kit in your at-home emergency supplies.  You may also want to add a small 1-tooth repair kit to your GO-Bag, and your vacation or business travel bags, too.  Dental problems seem to frequently happen at inopportune times, so we need to be prepared for this potential problem.

The basic components of a dental repair kit can be bought online.  A complete (1-tooth) kit can be purchased for under $15, or you can build your own for $7. 

Since dental emergencies take various forms; a broken tooth, a lost filling, or a crown (cap) that has fallen out, it is important for your emergency dental kit to be both universal and reasonably complete.  At a minimum, it should include: pain killer, dental glue, compact cotton balls (pellets) or gauze, round toothpicks, dental floss, dental wax, and tooth-filling material.  Optional but valuable additions include: medical gloves, a small mirror, magnifying glass, and a small, lightweight flashlight.  (In a bind, you can use Super Glue to reattach a crown).

Inexpensive dental repair kits may not have all of these supplies but they can be a great place to start; augment your pre-packaged kit as necessary.  Emergency repairs of dentures and partials requires additional materials made specifically for this purpose.

At a minimum, GO-Bags should include dental wax which can be used to cover a broken tooth that has an exposed root.  Tooth pain is not just inconvenient; it can create a life-threatening distraction.

In addition to the other obvious problems, tooth pain (or any other pain) will drain your body’s energy reserves at a much faster rate.   You may be able to cope with the pain, but it can nevertheless become a serious impediment to safety at a time when you need to be focused and attentive to problem solving. 

Pre-packaged dental repair kits are not all the same, and professional-grade repair materials are a must, but you don’t need to purchase an expensive kit to get what you need.

Emergency_Dental_Repair-Dentemp-CustomThe 1-2 tooth repair kit illustrated in the photo (DenTemp Custom) was purchased online for $4.85.  It is not complete, but it does have two critically important items, so it can form the basis for building your own kit.  The DenTemp package contains Zinc-Oxide and Eugenol putty, a material which can be used to repair or replace a missing filling or cover the void of a broken tooth.  Zinc oxide forms the putty and the Eugenol reduces inflammation and protects the nerve of the tooth. These are the same materials that many dentists use to bring temporary relief to their patients.

Thankfully, application of these tooth repair materials not only doesn’t require a dental degree, it doesn’t even require any experience.  A good kit will include diagrams and all the instructions needed, so being trained by your dentist in how to use the kit is helpful, but not necessary.  If you are building your own kit, make sure you include printed instructions which relate to the materials contained in your kit.  These instructions can often be found on the product manufacturer’s website.

Since it is difficult to accomplish dental repairs when you can’t see what you are doing, in most dental emergencies it’s easier to have someone else do the work on the damaged tooth.  However, it’s certainly possible to do it yourself.  Many people have accomplished the task alone, with excellent results.

Most dental repairs can be accomplished by touch, but a mirror is helpful if you find yourself alone.  If you have the benefit of having the help of another person, you will find that a lightweight, small flashlight and magnifying glass (or a magnifying glass with a built-in light) will be a great help.

How do these detail repair kits work?

Emergency_Dental_Repair-Kit-DentalMedic-byAdventure_Medicine-2Pre-packaged dental repair kits are not all the same in regard to how complete they are, and what materials are used.  The inexpensive dental repair kits found in many drugstores are typically inferior for emergency use, especially when you many not have access to a dentist for many days.  The first aid kits made by “Adventure Medical Kits” are reasonably complete yet relatively inexpensive, so it’s no surprise that their emergency dental kit is similarly useful (DentalMedic Kit by Adventure Medical Kits, $15).  Be sure to check the contents list of the kit before you make your purchase decision.  Just because the package is larger or more expensive does not mean that it contains a larger quantity of useful supplies.

All the better kits utilize a similar process.  Here is how they generally work:  The area of the tooth which needs to be treated is first dried as much as possible using dental cotton pellets or gauze.  If you have electricity and a hairdryer, consider using it on the lowest setting to thoroughly dry the tooth which needs repair.  Be sure to test the hairdryer first to make sure the air isn’t too hot or forceful.  (Keep the hairdryer at least two feet away from the mouth to avoid problems.)

A completely dry tooth will make it possible for you to achieve a better bond between the broken tooth and the tooth repair material, so take the time needed to thoroughly dry the affected area.  Have all your supplies at hand and everything ready to go before starting to work on the tooth.  If possible, wash your hands with disinfecting soap before starting.  Medical gloves are best, but many people end up removing the gloves once they get into the task–dental repair work requires all the dexterity you can muster.

Once the tooth is dry, the tooth putty from the kit is applied.  Gently tamp it into the damaged area of the tooth with a damp cotton pellet.  Or, use a rounded toothpick after removing its sharp point.  Rather than break the toothpick which will splinter the wood, use a knife to carefully cut the sharp tip from one end of the toothpick.  Next, remove any wood debris from the toothpick surface before proceeding.  Now you can use the flat, non-pointed end of the toothpick as a tool to tamp the tooth repair material firmly into place.

To fill the void of a lost filling, or to repair a broken tooth, the putty should be mixed fairly dry, making it possible for you to roll it up into a ball that doesn’t stick to your fingers.  Place the ball of repair material onto the broken (dry) area of the tooth, and then shape it to cover the entire region of the break, being careful to keep it off of the smooth, undamaged area of the tooth.  (Since the tooth repair material will not bind as well to the smooth, undamaged surface of the tooth, extending excess repair material onto this area can result in the repair being less durable, and not lasting as long.)

The filling material can be shaped using rolling action on the little cotton ball or gauze roll, or with a round toothpick or even your finger.  Make sure that the filling material is level or lower than the tooth above or below it, as even after the material is cured, you don’t want chewing to add unnecessary pressure on the temporary filling.  When in doubt, make the filling lower than the surrounding teeth.  The filler material does taste bitter, but it’s not toxic in these small quantities.  The bad taste will go away in less than an hour.

It is important to keep excess pressure off of the repair for the first 20-minutes.  With most of these kits it takes 60-minutes to achieve a complete “cure” of the filler material, after which you can resume drinking and eating.

Emergency_Dental_Repair_Travel_KitSee the manufacturer’s directions on how to use their products.  The instructions incorporated into this article are generic, and are provided simply to illustrate how easy it is to use these do-it-yourself dental repair kits.

The dental repair materials contained in kits such as these are for temporary dental repairs, so the repair material is designed to not fully bond to the tooth, thereby making it easy for a dentist to remove the temporary repair.  So it is easy to understand why these kits do not provide a durable long-lasting, long-term repair.

Emergency dental repair kits were originally designed for people who travel to remote areas of the world, or regions without easy access to competent dental care.  The objective of the manufacturer is to temporarily solve common emergency dental problems, giving you time to return home to your dentist, or at least to an area where you can get professional dental care.

Since these materials do not provide for a permanent bond with the tooth, temporary repair materials can soon fall out if there are no undercuts on the tooth, or if the broken tooth does not have a rough surface to help the materials adhere.  Yet in optimal conditions, these temporary dental repairs can last 3-months or longer.

Longevity of the repair is best achieved by completely drying the tooth before making the repair, by proper mixing of the repair material, and after the repair is made, by careful eating.  Avoid chewing on ice, foods which contain seeds, hard or sticky candy or other hard or sticky foods, and in other abuses of the repaired area.

Emergency_Dental_Repair-Kit-FieldtexIf you are preparing emergency supplies for a family or group, it is a good idea to have a more elaborate emergency dental kit, or at least several of the  smaller kits.  Keep in mind that an inexperienced user can easily need two of the small, basic kits to accomplish the repair if the initial effort was not successful.

For those wanting to prepare for longer-term emergencies, sailing adventures, jungle treks and other activities which may prevent you from visiting a dentist for an extended period of time, more kits or a larger kit will be needed.  If longer-term care is your preparedness goal, it is best to consult with your dentist and get their help in preparing a kit specifically for your purpose and expected duration.

A 2-week GO-Bag and all in-home emergency supply kits need to contain at least one dental repair kit per person.  These kits are small and lightweight, but since space in a GO-Bag is a premium, you may choose to not include a dental emergency repair kit.  If this is your decision, at least include a small piece of dental wax.  Like duct tape, dental wax can be used for many emergency and repair purposes, in addition to providing relief to a painful, broken tooth.

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