Dental emergency while traveling: Keeping your smile intact

September 14, 2023

Ah, the joys of travel! Whether you're exploring new cultures, embarking on an epic road trip, or simply enjoying a change of scenery, there's something undeniably exhilarating about being on the move. But what happens when you're far from home, out of network, and you get hit with a dental emergency? 

In this guide, we'll show you how to keep your smile intact while traveling, both domestically and abroad. 

Before You Travel: Prevention is Key 

The best way to handle a dental emergency while traveling is to avoid one in the first place. Here are some pre-travel tips to help keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape: 

1. Schedule a Pre-Trip Checkup 

Before embarking on your journey, visit your dentist for a thorough checkup. This will help catch any potential issues that could become emergencies on the road.  

2. Pack a Dental First-Aid Kit 

Just as you wouldn't travel without a first-aid kit for cuts and scrapes, don't forget to pack a dental first-aid kit. Include essentials like dental floss, pain relievers, sterile gauze, a small mirror, and temporary dental cement. These can be lifesavers in a pinch. 

3. Know Your Dental History 

Make sure you have a record of your dental history handy. This includes any existing dental conditions, allergies, and medications you're taking. Having this information readily available can be invaluable in an emergency situation. 

Dealing with Dental Emergencies Domestically 

Now, let's say your dental nightmare unfolds within the borders of your home country. What steps should you take? 

1. Contact Your Dentist 

Your first course of action is to call your regular dentist. Explain the situation and ask if they can see you as soon as possible. They may be able to offer advice over the phone or schedule an emergency appointment. 

2. Seek Recommendations Locally 

If your dentist advises you to see another dentist right away, ask for recommendations in the area. Dental professionals often have networks and can refer you to a colleague who can assist you promptly. 

3. Visit Urgent Care or the ER 

In cases of severe pain, bleeding, or facial trauma, don't hesitate to visit an urgent care facility or the emergency room. They can provide initial care and pain relief until you can see a dentist. 

Navigating Dental Emergencies Abroad 

Now, let's tackle the more complicated scenario: a dental emergency while traveling abroad. This can be a daunting experience, but with the right approach, you can minimize stress and discomfort. 

1. Check Your Travel Insurance 

Before leaving home, make sure your travel insurance covers dental emergencies. Read the fine print, understand the coverage limits, and keep your policy details handy. 

2. Locate Local Dental Services 

Research dental services in the area you're visiting before you depart. This includes finding out where the nearest dental clinics or hospitals are, their operating hours, and whether they have English-speaking staff if language might be a barrier. 

3. Contact Your Embassy or Consulate 

In a foreign country, your embassy or consulate can be a valuable resource. Contact them for guidance on local healthcare providers, translation assistance, or other support you may need during a dental emergency. 

4. Utilize Technology 

Smartphones can be your best friend during a dental crisis abroad. Use translation apps to communicate your issue if there's a language barrier. You can also take pictures of the problem to show the dentist, which can help with diagnosis and treatment. 

5. Check Online Reviews 

Check out reviews of local dental clinics to get an idea of their reputation and quality of service. 

6. Be Prepared to Pay 

In some countries, you may need to pay for medical services up front, including dental care. Familiarize yourself with local payment practices and be prepared to cover the costs, which you can later seek reimbursement for from your travel insurance. 

Common Dental Emergencies and How to Handle Them 

Dental emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, but here's how to handle some of the most common ones you might encounter: 

1. Toothache 

A sudden toothache can quickly turn your dream vacation into a nightmare. Rinse your mouth with warm water and gently floss to remove any debris. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate the pain. Seek dental care as soon as possible. 

2. Broken Tooth 

If you break a tooth, rinse your mouth with warm water, and save any tooth fragments. Apply gauze if there's bleeding and use a cold compress to reduce swelling. Seek immediate dental attention to repair or replace the broken tooth. 

3. Lost Crown or Filling 

Losing a crown or filling can be uncomfortable and expose your tooth to further damage. Use temporary dental cement (from your first-aid kit) to cover the affected area and prevent sensitivity. Get to a dentist as soon as you can to have it professionally restored. 

4. Knocked-Out Tooth 

A knocked-out tooth is a true dental emergency. Handle the tooth by the crown (not the root), rinse it gently, and try to reposition it in the socket if possible. If that's not feasible, store it in milk or your saliva and get to a dentist within an hour for the best chance of saving the tooth. 

5. Swelling or Abscess 

Swelling in the mouth, especially with a foul taste, might indicate an abscess—a potentially serious infection. Rinse your mouth with warm salt water and seek immediate dental care. Antibiotics may be necessary as part of treating the infection. 

Aftercare and Follow-Up 

Once you've received treatment for your dental emergency, make sure to follow your dentist's instructions for aftercare. This might include taking prescribed medications, avoiding certain foods, or scheduling follow-up appointments. 

Also, remember to update your regular dentist about your travel-related dental issues when you return home. They can ensure that any temporary solutions are properly addressed and that your overall oral health remains in good standing. 

Smile Through the Bumps in the Road 

Travel is meant to be an adventure, but dental emergencies are adventures you'd rather avoid. While no one plans for these bumps in the road, being prepared and knowing what to do can make all the difference in preserving your smile and enjoying the journey.