4 Things to Know Before You Go — and 4 More Dental Tips for While Traveling Internationally

Young family looking at the view in the airport

So you're leaving the country. Farewell, peace out, adios. There's no doubt about it, taking off for new environs is a thrill. And the lure of the unfamiliar isn't just exciting — immersing ourselves in other ways of life helps us learn about the world and connect with our fellow human beings. Even the snacks at a foreign corner store or the strange-to-us tinfoil at a grocery outside the U.S. is different enough to be invigorating.

But not everything is more exciting abroad. What if you have to navigate dental care outside the U.S.? Suddenly, the charm of the unexpected is more like abject panic. Skip the worry, and prepare for your international trip with our list of dental to-do's for before you go, plus ideas to handle mouth-health snags you might hit on the road.

4 Things to Do Before You Go

1. Get a Checkup

When you set your itinerary, it's a great idea to try to time a dental checkup for the weeks before departure. Not only will a fresh cleaning feel great, you can let your dentist know you'll be far from home, and they can make sure things are ship shape.

2. Have a Plan

Fresh checkup or no, emergencies are emergencies for a reason, and they can't always be avoided. Plan for the worst case scenario by alerting your dentist's office of your trip and asking about protocol for any dental emergencies while you are gone. It's a great time to get their best emergency contact and the contact info of the U.S. embassy or consulate.

3. Check on Insurance

If you have dental insurance, check with them about whether you are covered internationally, in case of emergency. They might advise you to be prepared to pay up front and submit a claim for reimbursement. In that case, you'll want to ask for information on the service, the tooth number or numbers, and an English translation of the claim, if possible. If you're not covered for international benefits at all, consider buying a travel medical insurance policy.

4. What about the Water?

No one wants to get traveler's stomach (or worse) while on a trip — especially not from just brushing your teeth with tap water. Check into info about your destination's water supply before you leave home, and you'll know exactly how to proceed. As a rule of thumb, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to consider the water inadvisable to drink in developing countries. In that case, brush with bottled water, and get a new toothbrush if yours gets the local tap water on it.

4 Dental Tips for During International Travel

1. Chew Some Gum

Do yourself a favor and pick up some chewing gum to toss in your bag for your trip. If you are flying, chewing gum during takeoff and landing can help with any stuffiness in your ears. And chewing gum can help your teeth stay tiptop while traveling, as well. Chomping the gum encourages saliva production, and saliva helps keep mouths healthy. Saliva makes the mouth environment less friendly to bacteria in general, and it acts as a natural mouthwash to clear away any bacteria that does show up — or food particles that try to stick around.

2. Ventilate that Toothbrush

When you're on the road, don't just toss your toothbrush in a plastic bag every morning and evening. It's important for your toothbrush to be allowed to dry completely. Being shoved in a plastic container while wet is a recipe for icky bacteria to thrive on your toothbrush, counteracting your brushing efforts. Check out these other travel oral hygiene tips, too.

3. Call If In Doubt

If there is an emergency, don't hesitate to call your dentist at home. And if you're not sure if it's an emergency, know that if you're worried about it, your dentist probably wants to hear from you. Many dentists advise that any pain automatically makes it an emergency, and they want patients to know that the sooner they hear from you, the sooner they can help.

4. Concierge

In most scenarios, dentists can offer a plan of action over the phone, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). But sometimes you'll need to seek local care. At a hotel with a concierge, the staff may be able to help you find a dental professional. Another option is to check for a reputable dental association that offers local referrals. You can also call the U.S. embassy or consulate and see if they have a referral to a dental professional. Good luck, and good teeth!

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What To Expect During a DENTAL VISIT

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist.

  • A Thorough Cleaning – a dental hygienist or dentist will scrape along and below the gum line to remove built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Then he or she will polish and floss your teeth.

  • A Full Dental Examination – your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems.

  • X-Rays – X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth.