True North Blog

How to Preserve a Tooth

How to Preserve a Tooth

I realize that first-aid for teeth isn’t as exciting as more lifesaving procedures, like using a tourniquet or providing CPR, but, let’s face it, if your tooth happens to get knocked out — root and all — I’m going to bet that it’ll feel almost as important.  After all, the potential of such a tooth injury is a relatively common consequence of many outdoor activities like rock climbing, skiing, and, of course, mountain biking.  On the upside, it can be fairly easily implanted by your dentist with a high probability of lasting success.  But if you are in a wilderness location with delayed access to a tooth doctor, how then can you best preserve it in the meantime?  That’s because the dislodged tooth is really not much different than any other amputated body part, like a finger … It must be kept “alive” until it can be reattached.  Here are a few tips to consider.

When your situation, or location, forces a delay in reimplantation, the tooth is best protected and kept safe by storing it in certain types of solutions.  One is Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution (HBSS) which contains a mix of calcium, potassium chloride, sodium phosphate, and other ingredients that are good for teeth.  Another is Ricetral, which is an isotonic solution also containing similar ingredients as HBSS.  But what if you don’t have these solutions in your first-aid kit?  Others options that will work are egg white, coconut water, and whole milk.  In a worse case, your could store the tooth in your own saliva. No matter what, though, don’t clean or store the tooth in plain water as this will damage it.

Okay, but what if you have none of these protective solutions and, worse, you are simply too far away from a dentist?  Although this may elicit a few groans and grimaces, you could reimplant it yourself.  It is generally fairly simple and still has a reasonably high rate of success, particularly when done sooner rather than later.  Here is how to do so:

  • First, clean the wayward tooth. You do this by handling it very carefully by the crown, not the root, then use your saliva — nobody else’s — to clean away any dirt and debris.  Don’t scrub the tooth, and don’t use regular water (even though you may still likely have blood in your saliva), as this may damage it.
  • Next, firmly push the tooth back up into the void out of which it was first knocked. To help ensure that it is firmly planted, carefully bite that portion of your mouth down on a cloth or other similarly soft material.

Of course, as soon as you can, get your tooth and mouth evaluated at the hospital or dentist.

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Would you like to learn more about how to treat injured teeth, or deal with other first aid issues, while in the outdoors, then consider enrolling in one of our upcoming Wilderness First Aid certification courses.

Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook.

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