Out of all the things you’re worried about taking care of during a survival situation, your usual oral care routine might rank pretty low on that list, if it is on the list at all.
What, with concerns like water, food and exposure to worry about it is understandable why personal cleanliness and daily hygiene routines would be suspended under the circumstances.
It might be okay, if unpleasant, for short-term scenarios but long-term survival is still life, even if it isn’t life as usual, and when life goes on you have to take care of yourself for the long haul.
That means you must take care of your teeth and gums. Good oral hygiene practices must be ongoing even in the most austere environments if you want to stave off disease and other maladies that can lead to considerable agony or even death.
You might be able to brush your teeth and floss pretty much on autopilot in kind times, but how are you supposed to take care of your teeth in the wild without the use of your bathroom sink?
How are you going to do it lacking even a toothbrush and floss? We can answer those questions and better prepare you for whatever challenging scenario you may one day face.
Oral Hygiene is More than a Nicety
I’m constantly amazed, and a little bit disgusted I’ll admit, to hear how many Preppers plan on simply abandoning their usual hygiene routines during an SHTF scenario.
Apparently planning to be and live filthy is still a plan. Maybe I’m being a bit too hard on them, and maybe they are only referring to short-term scenarios.
Truly, I would not judge anybody who is not worried about being sweaty or stinky during a crisis event when they have much bigger and more important survival fish to fry!
But considering long-term events, I really do hear too many people forgo the items that they perceive as niceties, luxuries or institutions of modern civilization for other such staples as food, bullets or additional shelter supplies. I can understand the logic, but it is faulty.
During long-term survival situations, you need to treat yourself like a spaceship floating up in high orbit.
Every day, there are things that need to be done to keep that spaceship in orbit, some more pressing than others.
Regulating the attitude thrusters might be something that must be done daily, like hydration, whereas cleaning the electrical panel is something that is not so pressing and is easy to procrastinate on, sort of like brushing your teeth.
The point is, neglect that electrical panel long enough and even though nothing bad will happen right away, no matter how nasty it gets, eventually something bad will happen and that spaceship will crash.
That is a good analogy for oral care. You can put it off and put it off for a long time, but eventually things are going to go bad and go bad spectacularly. Maybe even bad enough to kill you.
Maladies of the Teeth and Gums Can be Showstoppers
Everyone has experienced the consequences of poor oral hygiene before. You might even be suffering those consequences yourself.
Breath that rates anywhere from bad to utterly rank, discoloration, gross mouth feel and more.
These ill effects are certainly societal setbacks to say nothing of unpleasant to experience, but you should count yourself lucky if that is all you’ve had to go through.
Poor or lacking oral care will eventually result in the following nasty, painful ailments:
Cavities can eventually reach and damage the nerves in the tooth and the flesh of the gums.
This will start out as increased sensitivity when eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, and eventually progress to searing, eye-watering pain.
As damage to the pulp and roots of the tooth progress an abscess may form. An abscessed tooth or injury in the mouth is a great way to fast-track infection into the bloodstream and even to the brain. If that happens in the middle of a survival scenario, you are probably finished.
The point is, you aren’t just giving up nice, fresh breath when you skip out on brushing your teeth.
You’re starting to run up the meter on major oral maladies, and eventually that meter will go bust and you’ll have to pay up.
Chances are, it will be too late and you’ll be in real trouble. Unless you are extraordinarily, unbelievably lucky there isn’t going to be a dentist or orthodontist around the next corner to deal with these unpleasant circumstances for you.
Luckily, taking care of your teeth in the wild, even with minimal or no equipment, is fairly easy to do so long as you are diligent.
Taking Care of Teeth in the Wild: Two Methods
Taking care of teeth in the wild is much the same as taking care of it in your bathroom at home, the only difference being you likely won’t have any running water or electricity to make use of.
This will naturally modify our oral care routine a little bit, but not as much as you might be thinking.
You’ll still need to brush the teeth to scour away food residue and the beginnings of plaque and then clean between the teeth to prevent the buildup of plaque and bacteria that can damage your teeth and eventually hurt your gums.
If you can do these two things regularly and do them well enough you can halt or at least seriously slow the onset of oral maladies and diseases.
There are two ways to tackle this problem:
- Modern: Includes typical oral care items like toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and more in your survival kit or bug-out bag. This will afford you the highest possible level of cleaning efficiency under the circumstances.
- Improvised: This is where you fashion or craft the tools you need for oral care from natural materials, and substitute various herbs or plant matter for toothpaste as required or if available. Not as effective as using modern tools, but can make a surprising difference.
Both methods are viable, and though I will always recommend you use the right tools for any job, you might wind up having to use both methodologies.
You could pack a complete oral care kit in your bag only to be separated from it through loss or damage or maybe you just wind up using it up in a very long-term survival scenario.
For that reason, I urge you to study improvised methods no matter how much gear you plan on taking.
Include a Modern Oral Care Component in Your Kit
As you might be expecting, a modern oral care kit in your pack can save you a ton of grief, time, and effort when it comes to taking care of your chompers.
Not for nothing, getting your teeth all brushed and clean can be a good morale booster under the circumstances, and any fellows you might have with you will appreciate your fresher breath, especially when working in close quarters.
All you need to do to implement this strategy is include the following in your hygiene kit:
You can use a compact, fancy camping toothbrush for the purpose, but I like to buy basic ones and then cut the handle down a little bit to save space.
Nothing fancy here. You can use any toothpaste you want though I recommend you forgo the especially aggressive whitening toothpaste because they can be a little hard on your gums over time.
You can toss in a tiny travel bottle, but if you are preparing for a long-term survival scenario, go with a full-size tube. I strongly recommend you store this in its own Ziploc bag in case it gets mashed.
No one likes it, but everyone needs to do it. Include any floss you prefer in your kit, or if you hate floss then use those little violin bow-looking floss pick things.
Keep in mind that floss makes a very strong, thin cordage for all sorts of other survival purposes, so it might be best to include a roll even if you don’t prefer it.
This stuff is a type of moldable, sculptable plastic bead that becomes pliable after it has soaked in hot water for a short period of time.
It can be used to field craft fixtures or even replacement teeth in a pinch and works surprisingly well and easily with just a little practice.
Clove oil is a powerful analgesic and antiseptic that is especially suitable for oral use.
You can dab this directly onto a sore or cut in your mouth to help numb it, or even use it for tending to serious pain such as that caused by cavities, abscesses or broken teeth.
The smell and taste are both eye-watering, but a little bit goes a long way so a small vial will do it.
Wool gauze or a small ball of wool made from strands is useful for forming compresses or temporary fillings when used in conjunction with clove oil.
Wool has its own bacteria-beating properties that make it helpful for this application. For temporary use, you can use standard cotton gauze balls or pads.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Take care of your teeth like normal, or at least when you can.
Don’t forget to rinse your mouth if you have water to spare, but if you don’t, you needn’t worry as most toothpaste can function well enough without it and all you’ll need to do is spit when you are done.
Improvised Oral Care for Austere Conditions
Taking care of your teeth without the assortment of daily care items listed above is a little more challenging, but chances are you can still pull it off reasonably in the wild with a little bit of know-how.
Consider the following solutions:
1. For brushing your teeth, you can find a green branch from a non-toxic softwood tree. Cut it down to about half the size of a pencil then shuck the bark off of it.
Chew on the end of it passing it back and forth between your teeth until the end begins to fray apart and get good and fuzzy, looking a little bit like a makeup brush. You can use this fuzzy end to brush your teeth normally.
2. For cleaning between the teeth you can improvise floss from any thin, strong thread. One excellent option is a single strand from the internal guts of the paracord, but you might be able to pull off a strand from any frayed End of fabric or tarp that you have with you.
3. Another option for cleaning between teeth and an especially good one to use when between brushings is to whittle a toothpick from a suitably small branch.
Alternately, if you can locate a plant with thorns or spines that are large enough to handle you can snap one off and easily use this to clean between teeth.
Warning! And sure that any plant you use for this purpose is non-toxic and won’t cause a reaction upon contact or you’ll regret it!
4. Toothpaste is harder to replace when in the wild, but cultures around the world have been using various substitutes for a very long time.
Wild mint or cilantro when chewed up to form a paste is one such popular option that will clean, help kill germs and definitely freshen breath.
If you have salt on hand this can be used sparingly to help scour film off teeth and kill germs as well.
Pretty much no matter where you are there are various non-toxic herbs and grasses that can be used for the purpose with passing efficiency.
Where there is a will, there is a way, and even if deprived of your typical oral tools you can still take good care of your mouth in the wilderness.
Dealing with Cavities, Broken Teeth, and Other Mishaps
Dealing with major oral maladies and injuries in an austere environment is harrowing and painful.
Anyone who has suffered through a major cavity, broken tooth, or other mishaps in their mouth knows how debilitating that pain can be, and every sip of water and every bite of food you take while affected by it can be miserable agony.
Accordingly, we must be able to deal with these mishaps in the field no matter what.
Chances are we won’t have a dentist or a dental tech around to help us, either, though if anyone in your posse or mutual assistance group has those skills make sure you take care of them on their birthday and come Christmas time!
Believe it or not, with just a few supplies it is possible to fashion sturdy, semi-permanent fillings that can greatly reduce or even eliminate the pain from a cavity or a tooth that isn’t broken too badly.
You’ll want the clove oil mentioned above as well as wool gauze, or clean wool harvested from some other source, perhaps socks or a garment, the cleaner the better.
All you’ll need to do is soak the wool with the clove oil making sure that it isn’t sopping wet and then place it on the affected area. That should do for temporary pain relief.
To create a semi-permanent filling, if you have access to or can create pine pitch you can use that to carefully seal over the cavity or the broken tooth.
If done correctly, this will reduce or even completely eliminate pain and allow you to function more or less normally.
Make sure you have the injury tended to by a professional as quickly as possible, but there are reports of people in austere conditions getting by with fillings like this for months on end, even upwards of a year!
Dental hygiene is about much more than fresh breath and social acceptability. Neglecting your teeth and gums can lead to a host of ailments and health problems, with many of them resulting in debilitating pain or potentially even death in the case of infection.
For this reason, you must be prepared to take care of your teeth and all circumstances and especially in long-term survival scenarios.
You can accomplish this easily by bringing an oral hygiene kit along with your other gear and learning how to make use of improvised solutions crafted from natural materials.