A Toothache While Backpacking - What To Do
Getting a toothache while backpacking can be more than just annoying and inconvenient. It can end a good wilderness trip. Here are some tips for preventing a toothache before you head down that trail, and for treating it if you get one anyhow.
Wilderness Dental Care
First of all, don't ever go on a long backpacking trip if you have an unresolved tooth problem, or even the hint of a toothache starting. Go to your dentist and get it taken care of. If there is lingering pain, be sure to also get a prescription pain reliever to take with you.
Have dental work done far enough in advance of your trip to be sure that it is completely done. Sometimes a high spot on a new filling will start to cause severe pain days after it is put in. Your dentist can easily solve this by grinding it down, if you are not already in the middle of the wilderness.
Avoid doing anything that can cause toothaches or other dental problems while backpacking. I have almost cracked a tooth on a hard corn nut while backpacking. I opt for corn chips now instead. Popcorn, fortunately not a common backpacking food, may be one of the worst foods for damaging teeth.
A toothbrush and floss are a good idea on any backpacking trip (floss can also be used as fish line and to tie things together if need be). If you forget a toothbrush, you can chew the end of a dogwood twig until it is brush-like, and use that. This is about long-term care, of course. What if you have a toothache that starts when you are days away from your car?
Hopefully you at least brought aspirin with you. Tylenol #3 is even better for a severe toothache. An antiseptic containing benzocaine, applied directly to the irritated tooth and gum will temporarily relieve pain. Oil of cloves (eugenol) will also may help. Don't apply aspirin or other painkillers directly to gums, as they may burn your gum tissue.
Some toothaches do not originate in the teeth or gums, but in the sinus cavities. If your tooth pain is hard to pin down to one spot and is felt deeply, it may be a sinus infection putting pressure on the gums from above. In these cases, you may need to eliminate the infection to get relief. Use antibiotics if you are sure this is the cause. You might get temporary relief if you can clear the sinuses a bit by steaming (carefully) your face, or eating hot sauce.
If your teeth are temperature sensitive, you should obviously avoid hot and cold drinks. Warm your water bottle under your jacket if you have to. It can also help to breath through your nose. Breathing through your mouth can send cold air flowing over your teeth and cause a lot of pain.
I have a tooth problem right now - the inspiration for this article. A few days ago, I noticed that each time we drove over a mountain pass here in Colorado, the pain intensified. Coming back down below 8,000 feet seemed to always take the pain away. Watch for this problem, and you might resolve some of the pain by hiking down to a lower elevation.
Out of pain relievers? Get out your plant identification guide. Try chewing on catnip leaves for relief. You can also make tea out of the willow twigs or poplars leaf buds. These both contain varying amounts of some compounds that are similar to aspirin.
If a toothache has begun, you probably shouldn't hike any further into the wilderness. If it has become painful enough to suck the fun out of your backpacking trip, you should head for the car. It is time to see a dentist.
About the Author: Copyright Steve Gillman. Visit his website for ultralight backpacking tips, photos, gear recommendations, a free book and a new wilderness survival section:
Wilderness Survival Section : http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com