What To Do About Dental Problems When Traveling

It’s a traveler’s nightmare – a painful toothache or other dental emergency far from home and your regular dentist. What should you do when you have a dental emergency? When should you call a dentist? And how can you find one while you’re traveling? Following are tips on what to do when you’re on the road and your teeth need attention.

An Ounce of Prevention

It’s a good idea to make an appointment for a dental checkup before you leave on your trip, especially if you’re traveling to developing countries or remote areas without access to good dental care. Have your teeth cleaned.  This is especially important if you have gum disease. If you will be away for an extended time, consider having any partially exposed lower wisdom teeth removed. 

All root canal treatment should be completed before travel to avoid potential infections and pain due to pressure changes during air travel.

If traveling to certain lesser-developed countries, immunization against Hepatitis B might be a good idea in case dentists abroad are not vaccinated, says the Organization of Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP is dedicated to safe, infection-free dental care globally). This does require a series of vaccinations beginning six months in advance of your trip.

On the road, consider these preventive tactics:

  • Avoid chewing ice, popcorn kernels and hard candy
  • Don’t use your teeth to cut tape or other materials.

When Emergencies Do Happen

Even with sensible preparation, emergencies may take place when you’re away. Here is some advice on how to deal with common dental problems.


  • Clean your mouth by rinsing with warm water.
  • Gently use dental floss or an interdental cleaner to ensure that there is no food or other debris caught between the teeth.
  • Never put aspirin or any other painkiller against the gums or near the aching tooth because it may burn the gum tissue. If the pain persists, contact a dentist.

Broken Tooth

  • Rinse your mouth with warm water to clean the area.
  • Use cold compresses on the area to keep swelling down.
  • Call a dentist immediately.

Cracked Tooth

  • Apply cold compresses to control swelling.
  • Go to a dentist or a hospital emergency room.

Knocked Out Tooth

  • Hold the tooth by the crown and rinse off the root of the tooth in water if it’s dirty. Do not scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments.
  • According to the American Dental Association, if you can’t hold the tooth back in its socket, put the tooth in a cup of milk and get to a dentist as quickly as possible.
  • Another alternative is to place the tooth in Save-A-Tooth solution which will help increase the tooth’s survival rate  up to 24 hours. However, to ensure the highest survival rate, the tooth should be implanted by a dentist within one hour.

Finding A Dentist Abroad

Good dental care is available in many parts of the world, according to the ADA. In most European countries, the standard of dental education is comparable to that in the U.S. says the Journal of the American Dental Association. Members of the American Dental Society of Europe, for instance, have completed a full-time course of study at a recognized dental school in the U.S. or Canada.

If you have a travel insurance or assistance policy, the company’s 24-hour hotline can refer you to qualified dental care when you’re away from home, as well as provide translation help, if needed.  In addition, many countries have dental associations that can provide referrals.  Dental referrals may also be available from the hotel concierge, the American Consulate or the American embassy in the country you are visiting.  OSAP  suggests you ask before making an appointment if the office complies with basic standards like new gloves for each patient and sterilizers for instruments.


  • American Dental Association
  • Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (www.osap.org)


US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA)
UStiA is a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.