What to Do When There Is No Dentist: An Emergency Tooth Care Primer

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What to Do When There Is No Dentist: An Emergency Tooth Care Primer

Most of us have first aid kits in our emergency supplies. But how many of us have dental kits for emergency tooth care?

94 percent of adults over the age of 35 have had dental work and many of them suffer from cavities regularly. Are you prepared to deal with a dental emergency on your own?

If the answer is no, don't worry! We're going to show you the most important tools you need to treat dental issues in a disaster.

Worst-Case Scenario and Long-Term Emergency Tooth Care

First, let’s be clear. For standard disasters that last a few days or weeks, serious dental trouble is a true “worst-case scenario.” It probably won’t happen.

However, the longer an emergency drags on, the more the likelihood goes up. Heaven forbid you find yourself on your own for weeks or months—in which case self dental-care will become a life-saving necessity.

That’s all to say, prepping for a dental emergency might seem a little like extra credit (and maybe it is), but it’s one of those critical details that separates the day hiker from the true survivalist.

Pain That Puts You in Danger

alarm clock in a dark room

Severe tooth pain can prevent you from sleeping and cloud your decision making.

One of the most compelling reasons to keep your dental hygiene in tip-top shape is that tooth problems can cause a great deal of pain. They can start as just a simple toothache and end up hurting all the way up your jaw and into your head.

While nicks and pains are common in an emergency scenario, there’s nothing quite as intense as dental pain. It’s agonizing to the point of being debilitating. It can make it impossible to eat or sleep and can cloud your decision making.

A True Life-Threatening Emergency

When severe dental issues go untreated, they can quickly become life-threatening conditions—a problem under any circumstances, let alone when SHTF. Here are a few of the conditions that arise when you can’t take care of dental emergencies with emergency tooth care:


A skin infection, generally of the face, breast, or anus. It occurs when bacteria from your tooth enters the veins in your skin.


That’s right: Your bones can become infected. Your marrow becomes inflamed from the bacteria in your tooth. If left untreated, it can cause damage to your bone structure.


hands holding up an x-ray of teeth

A tooth infection can spread to the bones, skin, and blood, causing severe health emergencies.

An abscess is an infection near the Adam’s apple that can block your airway, making it hard to breath.


This blood infection is the most deadly outcome of an untreated tooth infection. It happens when the bacterial infection in your tooth spreads through your entire blood stream, causing your immune system to create inflammation so severe that it can destroy your organs and arteries.

Preventative Measures

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the old saying goes.


Brushing your teeth as a method as emergency preparation? Absolutely! The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes.

And by the way, brushing shouldn’t end just because you’re in an emergency. To the contrary, that’s when you need it most. Keep one of these powder tins in your go-bag. It has a surprisingly long shelf life—at least a year longer than regular toothpaste.


We may not all be great at it, but dentists recommend flossing once a day. Do it slowly, before or after brushing (it doesn’t matter which). Just like long-shelf life toothpaste and your toothbrush, keep dental floss in your bug-out bag.


child's hands whittling a stick with a knife

A stick with a softened, frayed end can serve as an effective ad-hoc toothbrush in the wilderness or a disaster.

Of course you should keep a toothbrush in your bug-out bag. However, if you happen to find yourself without one, you can “MacGyver” a brush from a pencil-sized twig. Soft woods like ash, poplar, or pine are best. Just chew and fray the until it's soft like a brush, and you’re good to go.


Got water and salt? With just ½ a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water, you can balance the pH in your mouth and help promote healthy teeth. Ocean water will do the trick too, if you’re on the coast. However, we recommend boiling it first, just to be safe.

If there’s no salt to be found, you can always try boiling the salt out of hickory roots. This may be more difficult, but it can be done.

You Need Emergency Dental Tools

The other part of preparing for good dental health when SHTF is having a solid dental kit with you. You can purchase pre-made kits like this. In addition to purchasing a kit, you can build one of your own. Just make sure you have some of the following at the ready for emergency tooth care.


Ever try brushing your teeth in the dark? It sounds a lot easier than it is. Keep a headlamp handy so you have light and free use of your hands.


These are great for cleaning and keeping your teeth healthy. You can find pick kits online but make sure yours has a dental mirror so you can see the backside of your teeth.


Wearing gloves is a smart way to protect yourself or anyone you may be assisting in dental care. Make sure you have a few extra pairs in your first aid kit.


This is very important if you have caps or fillings because even in a regular setting they can break. Make sure to add cap and filling repair supplies to your dental kit so you can quickly fix anything that cracks or comes loose.


cloves sitting on stone

Cloves and clove oil contain the antiseptic compound Eugenol that has been used for over 100 years to treat tooth pain and infection.

Clove is an effective pain reliever for dental issues. It contains an antiseptic chemical compound called Eugenol that kills bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Clove oil can reduce inflammation as well.

To treat tooth infection with cloves, moisten a clean tissue or cotton swab in water, apply the ground clove or oil, and spread it over the effected gums. You can also use a whole clove to similar effect. Just place it on the problem area for a few minutes and it should help reduce discomfort.


Benzocaine is the active ingredient in products like Orajel. This will help numb toothaches and other general dental pains. You can purchase benzocaine as a powder, gel, or even in a wipe.


This is a quick fix to cover a chipped or broken tooth. Apply dental wax to buy yourself a bit of time before getting a chipped or broken tooth repaired.


This is used just like the gauze in your first aid kit but is specifically made to fit inside your mouth. It’s not a necessity, but it’s awfully handy to have around.

Reading Material

We’re not saying to take up room in your bug-out bag with books, but below is some literature that we consider essential for understanding emergency dental care. The information you find here could literally be a lifesaver. Read these now before SHTF!


Gives you “information on Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART), a way to fill cavities without the use of a dental drill, as well as updated information on other training material and resources.”


“A field guide to providing dental care in…challenging environments, where resources and trained personnel are scarce and you need to save a tooth, manage pain, and prevent the spread of infection.”

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