Here’s a scenario for you. The Stuff has just hit the fan, and it’s no longer safe to stay in your home. You find yourself and your family deep in the woods, desperately fighting for day to day survival. Food, water, and shelter are your main concerns at this point. The last thing on your mind is dental hygiene… and yet, it’s one of the most important things you can be doing to maintain your overall good health.
The Mouth-Body Connection
We all understand that if we don’t take good care of our teeth, we might get cavities which eventually lead to toothaches and gum disease. In a SHTF scenario, this could mean dealing with some serious pain. (Reminds me of that agonizing scene in Castaway where Tom Hanks’ character pulls his abscessed tooth out using an ice skate blade. Yeesh!) But there are more serious consequences to bad oral hygiene that many people don’t know about.
According to this article on oral health, poor dental care can possibly lead to:
Cardiovascular disease: In a nutshell, this means heart disease. The bacteria from inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis causes plaque to develop on the inner walls of arteries which thicken and this decreases or may block blood flow through the body. This can cause an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The inner lining of the heart can also become infected and inflamed- a condition known as endocarditis.
Dementia: The bacteria from gingivitis may enter the brain through either nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream, that might even lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Respiratory infections: The Journal of Periodontology warns that gum disease could cause you to get infections in your lungs, including pneumonia. While the connection might not be completely obvious at first, think of what might happen from breathing in bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period of time.
Diabetic complications: Inflammation of the gum tissue and periodontal disease can make it harder to control your blood sugar and make your diabetes symptoms worse. Diabetes sufferers are also more susceptible to periodontal disease, making proper dental care even more important for those with this disease.
Bushcraft Dental Hygiene
Fortunately for us, Nature has provided several different means of taking care of our teeth using the plants we find growing around us. Indigenous people have been using these methods for hundreds of years, and have enjoyed perfectly good oral health. Recent scientific studies have actually proven that nature’s toothbrush is as effective, at times even more effective, than modern alternatives.
Fibrous trees with tannic acid make fantastic toothbrushes. Pick a pencil sized twig off of a tree, strip the bark a half an inch from the end, and chew on the exposed inner bark. If the wood frays and turns fibrous, it can be used as an improvised toothbrush. (Be knowledgeable about identifying edible plants vs. poisonous ones.)
Wikipedia has the following to say about using sticks for oral care:
Teeth cleaning twigs can be obtained from a variety of tree species. Although many trees are used in the production of teeth cleaning twigs, some trees are better suited to clean and protect the teeth, due to the chemical composition of the plant parts. The tree species are:
- Salvadora persica (Meswak)- native to Africa
- Lime tree
- Orange tree
- Tea Tree
…Plus a few other species native to Africa and India.
Basically, you scrub your teeth with the frayed end of the stick, and chew on it to remove the plaque and food from your teeth. No need to add water or toothpaste. Trim the end of the stick every so often to keep it clean and fresh.
Believe it or not, charcoal can be used as a toothpaste to fight gum disease and whiten teeth naturally. Take a small wood coal from a campfire, place it in a heat-proof container, add a little bit of water, and grind it into a paste. Brush your teeth with the charcoal paste just as you would regular toothpaste.
This guy shows you how you can make an antiseptic mouth wash by boiling pine needles in some water and swishing with the strained-off tea.
Sigma 3 Survival School shows us how to use Hickory and Oak to make an antiseptic body wash and mouthwash using the shavings of the inner bark to make a strong tea. You can watch part 3 of this series to learn more about bushcraft dental hygiene.
Sometimes scrubbing your teeth with a stick or swishing with an antiseptic mouthwash still won’t get to the bits of food remaining between your teeth. It’s important that you remove as much of this as possible to prevent decay.
Native Americans reportedly used strips of Yucca fiber as floss. They also likely picked their teeth with bones in lieu of flossing.
If all else fails, you can at least scratch the plaque off your teeth with clean fingernails.
Do you know of another creative way to deal with oral hygiene in the wilderness?