Don’t Let a Dental Emergency Ruin Your Vacation

June 30, 2008

Dentists at USC Offer Tips That Can Keep Your Mouth Healthy This Summer

Unexpected injuries or illnesses can ruin a vacation in a heartbeat, and oral health problems are no exception. Everyone should assess his or her dental health before traveling, says endodontist Ramon Roges, clinical associate professor and director of the Patient Emergency Clinic at the USC School of Dentistry. "Especially if you will be gone for a long time, it’s a good idea to get a complete dental checkup before you go," he says.

Those who have recently had or are currently having dental work done should discuss any necessary precautions with their dentist, Roges says. For instance, patients should avoid flying during a root canal process, since cabin pressure changes can cause excruciating mouth pain. Dentists should also instruct patients on what to do in case a temporary restoration or filling comes loose, and they can help patients learn to apply an over-the-counter emergency adhesive, he adds.

Some small oral health problems can wait until the patient returns home if they wish, and minor tooth pain or small mouth sores can sometimes be managed with over-the-counter topical analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, Roges says. However, he cautions that traumatic dental injury, severe swelling or bleeding must always be immediately addressed by a local dentist or an oral surgeon in a nearby emergency room.

"Severe swelling or bleeding could be life-threatening," he says. "And if a tooth is fractured or knocked out, the sooner the tooth is cleaned and repositioned the better, since a big infection can result if the pulp of the tooth or its periodontal ligament dries up when exposed to the air."

Roges adds that preparing for and lessening the risk of emergency situations is critical. If travelers foresee taking part in any contact sport, they should be fitted for a proper mouthguard beforehand and wear it at all times during play. Visitors should also talk to hotel staff or other local residents to pinpoint nearby clinics or hospitals to which they can go if need be.

It’s also important for travelers to make sure that those local dental professionals are qualified and take great care to provide a clean and safe clinical environment, especially in a developing region, says Diane Melrose, chair of the USC School of Dentistry Dental Hygiene Program.

"Always look around and make sure that instruments are fully sterilized, that the dentists and hygienists wear gloves and masks and that all other barriers are in place to prevent infection," she recommends. She also says travelers must ensure the safety of their water supply; merely brushing one’s teeth with dirty water can place one at risk for a devastating waterborne illness.

Melrose emphasizes that the best way to avoid oral health problems while on the go is to make sure your mouth is healthy before you leave and to follow good hygiene habits throughout the entire trip, even if your voyage takes you off the beaten path. Plenty of dental hygiene products are sold in travel-friendly forms at supermarkets and other stores, she notes, including toothpaste and mouthwash bottles in airline-approved sizes, well-ventilated toothbrush cases that prevent bacteria by helping the brush dry quickly, and disposable floss holders that make flossing one’s teeth easier and faster.

Melrose also notes that outlet adapters can be purchased for many electric toothbrushes if the traveler plans on visiting an area with different outlet voltages; if an adapter cannot be found or electricity is not available, a fully charged electric toothbrush can be used regularly for up to two weeks without a charge.

Everyone should clean his or her teeth thoroughly at least once per day, Melrose says. As a last resort, even rubbing a wet washcloth over one’s teeth and rinsing with water after sugary snacks is better than doing nothing, she adds.

"We encourage people to keep up their regular oral health habits and to not neglect their mouths," she says. "When you go on vacation, it’s very important to not take a vacation from caring for your mouth."

Contact: Angelica Urquijo, USC School of Dentistry, at (213) 740-6568 (office) or (213) 271-4189 (cell)