Hooray it’s the holidays! Time to organise the pet sitter, mail and dentist. Wait, what? It might be worth squeezing a trip to the dentist before you go.
One in 12 travel insurance claims are for dental emergencies. And of those emergencies, three out of four treatments could be prevented by making a timely dentist visit.
Here’s how to avoid an emergency dentist visit while on holiday. But life happens, and there are ways to help yourself if you get into trouble.
Book that check-up before check-in
The Australian Dental Association recommends a check-up at least three months before you travel. If it’s too late for this break, you might want to add a dental visit to your “must do” list before your next trip.
At best, an early check-up will include only a scale and clean. However, if you need major work, such as dental implants and wisdom teeth removed, you will have ample time to complete treatment before you go away.
Read more: How often should I get my teeth cleaned?
If you have dentures, allow enough time with a dentist or dental prosthetist to organise spare plate(s) in case you lose or break your regular ones while you’re away.
Avoid surgery just before flying
A planned dental visit before flying can help avoid complications, particularly related to surgical procedures, such as removing your wisdom teeth.
It’s generally wise to have your wisdom teeth removed well ahead of travel as you might need a hospital stay. It can also take at least two days for the extraction site to heal well enough to fly. That’s because the dry air and pressure can disturb the blood clot that forms where you’ve had your teeth removed.
Molar teeth (including some wisdom teeth) removed from your top jaw can cause other complications when you fly. If you fly too soon after surgery, changes in air pressure could lead to complications related to your sinuses that could see you dribbling your food and drink out of your nose. Not only is this annoying and embarrassing, it can be quite painful. You may also need further surgery to fix this.
People can also experience toothache when flying, or even diving. That’s because of a condition called barodontalgia that’s triggered by changes in air pressure, such as when a plane takes off or lands. Often, this pain is a symptom of a loose or leaking filling, a deep cavity close to the nerve inside the tooth, recent dental treatment or sinusitis.
If going overseas, have your travel insurance in order
If you’re going overseas, before leaving the country, make sure:
you have finished any outstanding dental work, as some travel insurers don’t cover pre-existing conditions
your travel insurance covers emergency dental care
you keep your travel insurer’s contact numbers handy (local and international numbers)
you nominate a friend or family member to contact your insurer on your behalf (just in case you are unable to do so yourself).
Other tips to avoid an emergency dental visit
Here are some practical tips to avoid harming your teeth, braces and crowns over summer:
use scissors, not your teeth, to open packaging
avoid chewing very hard foods such as ice, popcorn kernels, pork crackling, and crunchy candies. This is particularly important if you have braces, or large fillings or crowns as they can easily come unstuck or fracture
if you play contact sport, protect your teeth by wearing a custom fitted mouth guard.
I’m in pain. What do I do?
Here’s what you can do until you get to a dentist, if you:
have toothache — if you have spontaneous, radiating pain or a constant dull ache and/or pain and swelling, over-the-counter pain medication may help. But try to find a dentist as soon as reasonably possible
chip or break a tooth or filling — avoid running your tongue over the site and try to get to a dentist as soon as possible
knock out an adult (not baby) tooth — hold the tooth by the crown (not the root) and rinse with milk if it is dirty, then try to place the tooth back in the socket. If this is not possible, store the tooth in milk or inside your cheek and find a dentist as soon as possible
have a dislodged crown/cap — store the crown in a container; a dentist may be able to glue it back on.
have problems with your braces — shift loose wire that sticks out to make it more comfortable, then see an orthodontist or dentist as soon as possible
get an abscess — seek immediate dental care, and if this not possible, find a doctor or seek emergency hospital care. An abscess can become life-threatening very quickly
suffer trauma to your gums, mouth or face — apply firm pressure to the bleeding site with a clean bandage and seek dental or medical care
crack or break your denture — never try to glue the broken pieces back together, but store the lose parts in a container and seek help from a dental prosthetist or dentist as soon as possible.
I’m away from home. How do I find a dentist?
If you are holidaying in Australia, but away from home, ask a local person to recommend a dentist, or if that’s not possible, search online.
Then call. Although most dental practices close over the public holidays, they usually leave a message with contact numbers in case of an after-hours emergency.
If you need after-hours care, be prepared to pay a call-out fee of A$100-500. Often, the call-out fee is used to separate the real emergencies from those that can wait another day before the practice opens. If no help is at hand, the hospital emergency department may be able to help.
I’m overseas. How can I get help?
If you have a dental emergency while overseas:
contact your travel insurer to understand what documentation is required to make a claim
contact the Australian embassy, high commission or consulate to help you navigate the health system in the country you’re visiting
if there is no Australian service, the Canadian embassy, high commission or consulate will help you find a dentist.
After emergency treatment, ask for a copy of your treatment notes, images and x-rays to be sent to your regular dentist. This is particularly important if you need follow-up care when you return home.
And in the unlikely event you’ll need some emergency dental work, don’t forget to enjoy the rest of your break. Happy holidays!