We often fear catching a stomach bug in places like Delhi or breaking our neck while zipping around on a scooter in Bali, but few travelers give much thought to how we’d manage a severe toothache while traveling.
This is rather surprising given that dental problems can be quite debilitating, so if you haven’t given much thought to your teeth when you travel, it’s probably time you start.
Dental pain is one of those aches that is really hard to ignore. Despite how minor problems with your teeth may be, pain can radiate around your sinuses and head, leaving you with a relentless headache and feeling exhausted.
What would you do if you cracked a tooth during a trip or came down with a sudden severe tooth infection? Do you keep up with your dental hygiene while traveling? And should you need to visit a dentist while traveling, will your traveler’s insurance cover the expense?
It’s time to uncover the most effective ways you can manage dental pain while traveling, how you can avoid dental issues, and everything else you need to know when it comes to traveling and your teeth.
How to Deal With a Toothache While Traveling
Schedule a Visit with Your Dentist Before You Travel
The number one piece of advice is to schedule a visit with your trusted family dentist before your travel, especially if you’ve been putting off that regular checkup and professional cleaning.
If you have preexisting dental issues, this is even more reason to get things checked out. If you fall into the category of having gum disease, sensitive teeth, or even if you wear dentures, these are all issues you want to address before you travel.
Your dentist will be able to look for signs of potential issues that are likely to develop into more serious dental problems if left untreated and can perform any necessary treatments or surgeries to help you avoid pain flaring up during your travels.
Causes of Toothaches
There are many things that can cause dental pain, and it doesn’t necessarily only strike those who aren’t taking care of their teeth. Some toothaches may not even be related to an issue with your teeth, rather it could be a symptom of sinusitis or migraines.
A large percentage of toothaches, however, are to do with issues with your teeth. It could be something as minor as a small cavity that can lead to an infection in the pulp of the tooth (abscess) or something serious like a cracked or chipped tooth.
Gum disease can lead to exposure of the roots of your teeth which can make them sensitive to heat and cold, while grinding your teeth when you sleep can wear down the enamel.
You of course can also crack a tooth while engaging in adventurous activities or sports while traveling which can lead to serious pain.
Maintaining Proper Dental Hygiene While Traveling
One of the best ways to avoid many causes of toothaches is to maintain proper dental hygiene while traveling. While traveling is a time to relax and let go a bit, you should never forego brushing and flossing your teeth on a daily basis.
Even if you stop brushing and flossing for as little as 3-4 days, plaque can thicken and gingivitis can start setting in.
In addition to regular brushing and flossing, staying hydrated is also important. Drinking water regularly prevents dry mouth which can lead to teeth staining, gum disease, and tooth decay.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your tap water at home may contain fluoride which is effective for preventing cavities. Brushing with toothpaste becomes even more vital when a country’s tap water does not contain fluoride or when you choose to stick to bottled water when it’s been advised not to drink local tap water for health reasons.
Most people can avoid most common dental issues simply by brushing and flossing regularly along with visiting their dentist for regular checkups. The best part is that toothpaste, a brush, and floss take up little luggage space or weight.
Pain Relief and Dental First-Aid While Traveling
If you do happen to be unlucky enough to experience dental pain while traveling, there are thankfully a number of easy things you can do to hopefully relieve minor pain.
Over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can often do the trick but so can a simple saltwater rinse. Saltwater rinses are cheap to make and this natural disinfectant can effectively reduce inflammation fast.
An alternative to a saltwater rinse is trying a hydrogen peroxide rinse which can also reduce inflammation, kill harmful bacteria, and remove plaque. You need to be careful to mix the right concentration of hydrogen peroxide, as failure to dilute it properly can actually do more harm than good.
Other ways to relieve dental pain include elevating your head with an extra pillow at night and applying cold compresses to the affected area. Refrain from putting an oral pain reliever directly on the gums as this could cause damage to sensitive skin.
Some other pain relieving methods that are a bit more alternative include placing used warm peppermint tea bags near the pain, making a paste from crushed garlic, or using things like guava leaves or thyme.
Lastly, if you happen to get a tooth knocked out, quickly place the tooth in a glass of milk and see a dentist as soon as possible. This act may save your tooth and allow it to be reinserted.
Never try to perform your own dental work whether it be on your actual teeth, or doing DIY fixes to braces or dentures.
Avoiding Other Dental Problems
In addition to maintaining good oral hygiene, you also want to avoid certain activities to minimize your chance of injuring your teeth or jaw while traveling.
Avoid chewing or biting down on hard foods, or eating items that tend to get easily trapped in-between teeth.
Refrain from doing that party track at a foreign pub where you open a beer with your teeth to impress that French barmaid and maybe avoid saying or doing something that could see you getting a fist to the face.
Be extra careful when engaging in sports such as winter skiing or contact sports, especially when a dentist may not be close by or readily available.
And if you’re suffering from sensitive teeth, avoid hot drinks, cold frozen treats, and acidic fruits and beverages until you get home and can get your dentist to remedy the problem so you don’t make things worse.
Visiting Dentists Overseas
Of course there will be times where visiting a dentist while traveling is inevitable. Throughout Western European countries, Canada, and Australia, dentists are just as skilled as American dentists.
It isn’t a bad idea to research ahead of time the locations and contact information of dentists in the area you will be traveling to, especially if you can’t get in to see your dentist before hand or are susceptible to dental issues.
If you need an emergency dentist while overseas, hotel staff can usually provide you with assistance in finding a local dentist or you can try contacting your consulate for advice.
Thankfully, there are travel insurance policies that provide international dental treatment, but you may need to give your insurer a call to make sure your chosen dentist will be covered.
Although having travel insurance can assist you with emergency dental issues that arise during your travels, don’t expect to use it as an excuse to score a free checkup or that root canal you’ve been putting off back home. There are limits to what treatments are covered as well as coverage amount limits that may be limited to as little as $500 for example.
Travel insurance will only cover overseas emergency dental expenses and only those that are for unexpected injuries that require immediate treatment. If a preexisting condition led to you needing treatment, your claim will likely be denied.
You also won’t be covered for lost or stolen dentures or elective dental treatments such as getting implants. A policy may, however, cover things like x-rays, prescription medication, and anesthesia up to your set coverage amounts.
Flying and Your Teeth
You may be aware that experiencing ear pain while flying, especially when you have a cold, can be quite common due to the changes in air pressure. These air pressure changes can also cause or enhance dental pain when there are issues with your teeth.
It’s important to note that flying itself doesn’t cause issues like cavities or gingivitis, and they don’t make them worse either. The reason you may notice new pain or more severe pain is simply due to the lower atmospheric pressure which causes expansion of air in the maxillary sinuses, something that is known as aerodontalgia.
If your teeth and gums are healthy, it unlikely flying will cause any oral discomfort unless you have a sinus infection or headache. Pain or inflammation in and around the face caused by non-dental issues can radiate to the teeth and jaw thanks to a large network of sensitive nerves.
Those that tend to notice tooth discomfort while flying are likely to have a cavity, cracked tooth, or abscess which then becomes more noticeable thanks to the air pressure. Once you land, the pain should resolve itself. If it doesn’t, it may be time to see a local dentist.
If you believe you may have current dental issues, it would be wise to pack some pain relievers in your carry-on just in case you need them. You may also want to avoid requesting hot or sugary drinks while in flight.
Here’s to healthy teeth and hoping you never experience dental pain while traveling. However, if you do have chronic tooth pain or randomly experience it while traveling, I hope these tips will help you relieve some of the pain.
Prevention is always the best medicine, but it pays to know what to do when something unfortunate does happen.