Let me make something plain before I start. The best way to heal cavities after the SHTF is to just not get one. Try your best to avoid them, rather than fix them. You can start by cutting down on sugary drinks, not just fizzy ones, but fruit juices too now, and make sure you use fluoride-based toothpaste while you can. The history of dentistry before anesthesia and modern antibiotics was not a pretty one and when the SHTF we will be back there again. In fact I’ll give you a flavor of what it was like to get a toothache back in the day.
This excerpt was taken from the book, “Teeth, Teeth, Teeth” by James Wynbrandt:
“A friend told me of a man who with two others left the state of Washington for fur trapping in severe remote far northern Canada. They expected to be and were snowed in for a long winter. They had a comfortable cabin and ample supplies but couldn’t and didn’t expect to communicate with others. One suffered a toothache so unbearably painful he shot and killed himself.”
Is this true, I don’t know, but I’m sure many of you reading this, have felt the pain of toothache.
With this in mind, let’s look at the options for managing a cavity when there’s no anesthesia or dentists to help.
Related: Dental Care after SHTF
Basic Steps to Filling a Cavity
NOTE: The sooner you can tackle the cavity, the easier it will be and the less chance of infection.
- Inspect the cavity for decay, noting the extent
- Give the patent some form of anesthesia (see below for natural options if you don’t have any stock of pain killer available)
- Clean the cavity and remove any decay using a tooth pick tool
- Dry the cavity – it is very important the cavity is dry as water can affect the cement
- Prepare a cavity cement (see below for alternatives if you don’t have any dental cement)
- Fill the cavity with the cement
NOTE: Keep everything sterile – your tools and yourself.
Ideas for Things to Stock Up On Before the SHTF
It is a really good idea to stock up on the following items in readiness for toothache when the SHTF:
- Fluoride toothpaste
- DIY dentistry kits (available from pharmacies)
- Glass ionomer dental cement or Zinc Oxide and Eugenol liquid
- Pain relief gel (available from pharmacies)
- Dentist tool kits, which include, tweezers, mirror, pick tool (available online)
Getting at the Source of the Trouble: The Tools of the Trade
The problem with dentistry is that you’re dealing with a confined space. Getting at a tooth, especially the molars near the back of the mouth. You therefore need to have the right tools for the job. The first job is that a cavity needs to be cleaned; less so if the cavity is formed by a pre-existing amalgam falling out. The tools you need to find and clean a cavity are:
- A small mirror that can fit in the mouth to let you see the cavity
- A tool that is angled and has a sharp edge so that you can get at the cavity and that can help clean it.
In modern times, dentists use an electrically powered drill to clean out the decay. The likelihood of you having power after the SHTF is pretty low (unless you have a home grown generator). So lets assume you don’t have any electricity – like in a total EMP Blackout. In this case you need to locate the cavity. Once you find it, you have to be careful to clear all of the debris and especially the decay out of the cavity. This will be done manually and can be a painful process as there is a high likelihood of hitting the tooth nerve. Having experienced this myself, I can tell you it really is horrendous pain. However, if you leave any decay behind, the decay will continue once you fill the cavity and cause even more problems and pain.
An Experiment in Painless Decay Removal
There has been some research into removal of decay without need for a drill. The research concentrated on the use of a mix of amino acids and sodium hypochlorite. In clinical trials, the mixture was shown to remove decay over a 5-15 minute period and is painless. You can read the full transcript on the method here in the journal, Nature.
It isn’t easy to buy the gel online, but in the next few years it may become more widely available.
Pain Relief and Antiseptic
If you haven’t stocked up on pain relief or antiseptic then you’ll need to find some natural alternative. Over the millennia, humans have experimented with pain relief for toothache. The Greek physician, Galen, born in 130AD was reported to use pickled root of chrysanthemum, which was effective but also caused surrounding teeth to become loosened. In 13th century Europe, ‘sleep sponges’ were used which consisted of sponges soaked in concentrated hemlock, opium, henbane and lettuce seeds – I’m sure that would do the trick…
Some natural pain relief and antiseptic that is a little easier to get hold of than opium are:
- I have had clove oil applied by a professional dentist myself to an open wound where a wisdom tooth was removed and it did help. To make up some clove oil, take two cloves and grind them to a powder. Add a little oil and create a mixture, which is placed on and around the infected tooth.
- Warm, salty water: A simple but very effective way to kill off bacteria. Just swish the salty solution around your mouth, focusing on the infected area. This will kill bacteria and help relive the pain of the cavity before attending to it.
- Powdered ginger and cayenne pepper: Make a paste of these two ingredients with a little water and place o the infected tooth. Helps with toothache.
- Ice: Ice, if you can get hold of some, is a great pain relief method as it simply numbs the surrounding area.
- Natural salicylates: These are the derivative to modern aspirin and found in various leaves, such as birch leaves and white willow bark – chew on the leaves or the bark to relieve pain.
Filling the Cavity
If you haven’t stocked up on cavity cement before the SHTF then you’ll need to find some alternatives. However, do try and keep a good supply of the glass ionomer available as it is an effective cavity filler and really easy to use – you don’t need UV light to set it, for example.
Using Cavity Cement
Once you’ve cleaned the cavity and dried it out, pace a little cotton wool or tissue in the cavity to keep it dry.
You can make cavity cement from Zinc Oxide powder and Eugenol liquid. Eugenol liquid can be irritating to the gums, so be careful with it. Mix the zinc oxide powder ad a few drop of the Eugenol liquid together on a hard flat surface, like a ceramic tile. It works best when it is thick and not sticky. You can tell if it isn’t ready by rolling it between your fingers – if it sticks, its not ready, you can add a little more zinc oxide to get it to the point of readiness.
Once its ready, pull the cotton wool or tissue out of the cavity and fill the cavity with the cement. Smooth it using something like a wood tooth pick or similar. Remove any cement that spills outside the cavity before it sets using your dentist tools. Try to smooth down the surface of the cement as much as possible, ensuring the whole cavity is filled. My dentist will make me bite down on some paper to see if there are any rough edges left over.
You should not eat or drink anything for about 1-2 hours after the filling is done to give it time to set.
Final Note: Oil Pulling
There is a procedure known as ‘oil pulling’ that purports to be a cure for cavities. I can’t find any real evidence that this method works, but I can’t see any real harm in using it either. The method suggest you use an oil, like coconut oil, which you then swish around your mouth for 20 minutes each morning before eating food. Apparently the oil ‘remove impurities’ and can remove or reduce the decay in a cavity effectively fixing the cavity.
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