Guest Article: 5 Common Dental Problems While Travelling Abroad And How To Fix Them (Dentist-Approved!)

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5 Common Dental Problems While Travelling Abroad And How To Fix Them

Dealing with dental issues while on holiday can be a nightmare – from figuring out how to access dental care in a foreign country to the often astronomical costs involved with dentistry.

However, some of the more common problems can often be temporarily fixed, allowing you to continue enjoying your travels without worrying about a bill – as long as you make sure to book an appointment with your usual dentist as soon as you get home!

We recently spoke to dentist Dr Shane Khaki, who wrote Your Travel And Health’s very first guest article by a medical professional. Read on for Dr Khaki’s insight on five possible dental problems that can occur while travelling abroad, and how to deal with them!


Crown Breaking / Falling Off

This is a common problem to have, and is likely the most frequent. Crowns have a shelf life which is highly varied; they are not really designed to last someone’s lifetime and hence frequently fall off. Unfortunately, it is very unpredictable and crowns can break or fall off without any warning. It could be as simple as biting into something!

This usually happens in two ways. First, the tooth supporting the crown can fracture and break off with the crown still attached, leaving a small stump of tooth remaining in the mouth which is unfixable. Alternatively, the crown can de-bond which means the cement has weakened over time. This is a better situation as the supporting tooth is still viable and hence the crown can be put back on. 

If the former occurs whilst on holiday, there is no real way to fix it as the supporting tooth is compromised. It may be possible to stick the crown back on with some temporary cement which is usually available from pharmacies – however, it will be very weak and not likely to hold for long. The best thing to do is to see a local dentist if possible.

If the latter occurs, the ideal situation would be to find temporary crown cement usually available from a pharmacy and stick it back on yourself. The method to do this is simple:

  • Rinse your mouth and brush the tooth well
  • Wash the crown with water and ensure it is dry
  • Apply the temporary cement in the crown.
  • Push the crown on the tooth ensuring the orientation and position is correct. Hold it down for about 2 mins until secure. 

If temporary cement is not available, the tooth can be left as it is but you must ensure it is not used to eat with. Remember to also keep the crown safe until you can be seen by a dentist!

Toothache

This is, in my opinion, one of the more difficult problems. There are many causes to toothache, each with varying levels of pain – usually a dull ache or a throbbing pain which can affect sleep as well as your daily routine.

The best method to alleviate toothache is to take ibuprofen – as toothache is an inflammatory problem, anti-inflammatory drugs are best suited to the problem. Take 400mg of ibuprofen no more than 3 times per day. Paracetamol can also be taken to supplement the ibuprofen and can be taken 4 times daily with 1000mg each time. And you must avoid eating with the painful tooth!

If antimicrobial medications are available, they can also be consumed. While they will not work immediately like painkillers do, they will help with an infection. There are two main types that work best for toothache:

  1. Amoxicillin 500mg, 3 x daily for 5 days 
  2. Metronidazole 400mg, 3 x daily for 5 days

Metronidazole is the stronger of the two, but should be taken with caution as it can also cause stomach cramps and has interactions with many prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, there is not much else that can be done to alleviate toothache – make sure to see your dentist when you get back to get to the cause of the problem.

Abscess

An abscess is an infection of a tooth and is usually characterised by swelling – this swelling can be on the gum adjacent to the affected tooth or even on the face or cheek. Not all abscesses are painful but most are to varying degrees. 

If you find yourself suffering from an abscess while on holiday, take painkillers and antibiotics as mentioned above and seek dental advice as soon as possible. Ideally, the abscess needs to be drained to allow the pus to come out, which in turn reduces the bacterial load trapped within the swelling. Only a qualified dental professional should usually do this. However, in the event that there is absolutely no access to a dentist, one can attempt removal with the following steps:

  1. Acquire a thin sharp pin and ensure it is sterilised with boiling water or alcohol.
  2. Insert the pin into the swelling on the gum, ensuring the gum is pierced.
  3. Press the swelling which will encourage the pus to release.
  4. Rinse with salt water regularly.

Please be careful when attempting this and be aware that this is a very painful procedure which should only be used for an abscess on the gum. It should never be done outside of the mouth if the swelling is only on the cheek.

Broken Filling

Fillings commonly fall out without warning, especially when eating. Breaking a filling does not always lead to pain but can cause cold sensitivity due to the inner structures of the tooth becoming exposed.

The best way to deal with a broken filling while travelling is to use temporary filling material which can be found in most pharmacies. 

Steps are as follows:

  1. Rinse the mouth and brush your teeth to ensure no debris is left in the hole
  2. Roll up the filling material and insert it into the tooth, pressing down firmly. You will usually get a spatula with the kit which can be used to press the filling down. Ideally someone should help you to do this, as it can be quite tricky on your own. While inserting the filling, it is better to overfill and remove the excess as opposed to underfilling.
  3. Bite down and clench your teeth together for a minute to ensure the filling has adapted to your natural bite.
  4. Do not use this tooth to eat until you can get it repaired professionally.

If a temporary filling is not available, cotton wool can be used to cover the hole but should be replaced several times a day. If asymptomatic, it is possible to leave the tooth alone and just ensure no food gets trapped in the hole until you can get access to professional help.

Gum Soreness / Bleeding

Gum soreness and bleeding has many causes, including smoking, food getting trapped between the teeth, and wisdom tooth eruption.

The most common cause is food trapped between the teeth, especially pieces of meat. To remove trapped food, use floss or interdental brushes to gently clean between your teeth – be careful, as it may be slightly painful. Rinse with salt water regularly until the soreness goes away, or you can also use a mouthwash such as Corsodyl as it has anti-inflammatory properties – the active ingredient is chlorhexidine.

If a wisdom tooth feels sore or is bleeding, use salt water rinses regularly and do not eat near the tooth. A couple of drops of Clove oil on cotton wool placed on the area for a few seconds can also help to some extent as a topical anaesthetic. However, it will not help with toothache, only sore gums, as it works topically. 

Summary On Common Dental Problems While Travelling Abroad

There you have it – five common dental issues you may run into while travelling, and dentist-approved tips on dealing with them. Remember to check your existing medications do not contraindicate with any of the recommendations above or you are not allergic to any of the medicine or products. 

Crown problems, such as breaking or falling off, are frequent and often unpredictable -if the crown debonds, it can typically be reattached temporarily until seeing a local dentist. Toothaches, arguably the worst problem, can be alleviated with ibuprofen or paracetamol. Antibiotics like amoxicillin or metronidazole may also help, though the latter should be used with caution!

Abscesses, characterised by swelling and infection, require professional attention to drain pus safely – in a very dire situation, piercing the abscess with a sterilised pin can be a last resort, but once again with extreme caution. Broken fillings, often occurring during eating, can be temporarily addressed with filling material from pharmacies. 

Finally, gum soreness or bleeding, commonly caused by trapped food or wisdom teeth eruption, can be managed with saltwater rinses and anti-inflammatory mouthwashes like Corsodyl.


Thank you again to Dr Khaki for sharing his professional tips! And remember that while these offer temporary solutions until professional dental care can be accessed, the best thing to do is always to see your dentist.

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