I’ve noticed that first aid kits tend to focus on bodily injury: burns, lacerations, broken bones, and the like. Occasionally some attention is given to accidental poisoning or a drug overdose, legal or illegal. Very rarely do commercial first aid kits or commonly-taught first aid courses pay any attention to a dental emergency, despite how common they are, particularly with children.
Learning the basics of dental first aid isn’t particularly difficult, nor is it expensive to prepare a dental first aid kit. So you should do both, and soon. It’s pretty likely that at some point you’ll have to deal with a dental or orthodontic emergency whether major or minor.
So let’s talk first about a dental first aid kit? What should it include? The good news is that you need a regular first aid/medical kit , augmented with the following:
- Dental Floss
- Soft dental/orthodontic wax: most drug stores should have, and you can order it from Amazon too. It’s pretty cheap.
- Cotton pellets and cotton balls
- Emergency tooth filling material: I recommend something like Tempanol or Cavit.
- Clove oil: yep, just like in “Marathon Man”. It’s a natural pain reliever that works really well on contact. You can buy it from the grocery store or your local hippie mart. Just make sure it’s food grade and pure. Limit contact with soft tissue, it can burn.
- Small dental tweezers
- Dental mirror
- Protective gloves: these should already be in your first aid kit, but it’s important enough to mention again.
- A small pen light
Again, cheap and easy to put together, and it’ll help you deal with most dental emergencies that might come your way. But now that you’ve got a kit, how do you use it?
In general, dental first aid kits are intended to prevent further pain or damage until you can get to a dentist, so bear that in mind. Let’s break down dental first aid into some easy responses to common ailments or emergencies:
Apply a sterile gauze pad to the site and hold in place. Protip: the tissues inside the mouth, especially the tongue, can be pretty slippery. Gauze can also help you get a grip on them. Hydrogen peroxide can help disinfect and clean up blood. Another good trick is to put a wet tea bag on the site, wrapped in a piece of gauze. This really slows or stops bleeding.
This one’s tricky, as it can be caused by a number of things. If it’s an ache or sense of pressure, try flossing around the affected tooth to remove any particles that might be causing the irritation. If it’s more serious pain, a bit of clove oil applied directly can work well. If the pain persists, take it to a dentist.
Protruding wires or components can be covered in dental wax until you can get to your dentist or orthodontist. If it’s really bad and wires/brackets/etc are stuck in the cheek or gum, leave them in place, use gauze to soak up the blood if you can do so without causing more damage, and get help fast.
Again, there are a lot of degrees of severity here. If you lose a crown or filling, emergency crown cement or filling material can provide some comfort till you can get to a dentist. Just use according to the manufacturers directions. If you’ve got a cracked or chipped tooth, dental wax can keep things covered and relatively pain free until you can seek treatment—which you should do quickly.
Knocked out tooth
Every parent dreads this one, but it’s more dramatic than traumatic. In general, if treatment begins with 30 minutes of losing the tooth, it can be saved. Find the tooth if possible, rinse it clean in sterile water, saline solution, or milk. Only handle the tooth by the crown—never ever the roots. Get to a dentist or emergency room, immediately. You can try to reinsert a knocked out tooth yourself. Clean it as above and then gently reinsert into the socket. Bite down on a piece of gauze to hold it in place and then get to a dentist or ER.
Hold it in place with a piece of gauze and get to a dentist. This one’s simple.
These are the down and dirty basics for most common dental first aid emergencies. A good first aid course can give you more detail, so check with your local Red Cross chapter and see if they have anything. I’d also recommend the book “Where There Is No Dentist” by Murray Dickson. It’s a guide to dental care in remote communities that don’t have access to proper hospitals, and you can download it for free.
Once more with feeling: all of this is emergency care. In any dental or orthodontic emergency get professional help as quickly as possible.